RAF St Athan to be turned into civilian airfield by 2019 under Welsh Government plans

Proposal sparks row as Tory MP claims it would mean demolishing local buildings

MOD RAF St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan

The Welsh Government plans to turn RAF St Athan into a civilian airfield – but already stands accused by a Tory MP of messing the project up.

The RAF is due to hand over operational control of the airfield to private contractors Serco in December, when it will operate seven days a week from 9am to 5pm.

But Conservative MP David Davies says a letter he has received from a UK Government Minister suggests all is not well at St Athan, which forms part of the St Athan-Cardiff Airport Enterprise Zone.

Gallery: When RAF St Athan celebrated 75  years (1938 – 2013)

On Monday, the Welsh Government issued a statement saying that Serco had been appointed “to meet the exacting demands of the diverse and growing client base operating from St Athan”.

The statement said: “In operating the Airfield Operating Service (AOS), all aspects of running the airfield are included, from the issue of aviation fuel to the provision of fire cover, ensuring the vehicles are serviceable and able to safely execute the transmission of Air Traffic Control instructions with all its constituent parts.”

Some 28 jobs are being created, including a number for ex-RAF personnel.

Economy Minister Edwina Hart said: “We want the Enterprise Zone to be an ongoing success and I am pleased we have been able to respond to the needs of businesses operating on the Park and ensure they have the environment and infrastructure for growth.”

But Mr Davies, who represents Monmouth, released a letter he has received from Defence Minister Anna Soubry, which says: “Welsh Government officials’ intent was that Serco, their appointed contractor, would provide seven day airfield operating services from July 1, full vesting day. However, as Serco was unable to provide sufficient Air Traffic Control personnel by July 1, the RAF is providing additional control services to enable limited seven day airfield operations.”

Ms Soubry goes on to say that an Instrument Landing System bought by the Welsh Government “can only be fully commissioned once a number of houses and buildings are demolished, as they infringe the Instrument Landing System safety footprint”. The airfield will be functional by 2019.

Monmouth Conservative MP Mr Davies said: “The Welsh Government has a lot of explaining to do. I am aware that they have been going round air shows promising companies they will be able to use St Athan virtually 24/7, yet that is far from the case. It seems that one proposed contract fell through because the company supposed to be supplying air traffic controllers wasn’t able to find enough.

“It also seems the Welsh Government has bought some sophisticated landing gear that it won’t be able to use for five years because there are some buildings in the way. I’ve no idea how much this gear cost, but you can bet it was a great deal more than a SatNav system from Halfords.”

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “We are working with the Ministry of Defence to develop the commercial potential of St Athan airfield. The long-term intention is for St Athan to operate as a civilian airfield from 2019.”

Sourced from walesonline


Seven new rescue helicopter bases to be built in UK

Computer generated image of hangar

A computer generated image of the planned new bases

Balfour Beatty has been awarded a £40m contract to lead the construction of search and rescue bases for Bristow Helicopters.

New facilities will be built at commercial airports at Caernarfon, Humberside, Inverness, Manston, Newquay, Prestwick and St Athan.

Buildings in Stornoway will be revamped.

Crews and helicopters to be based at Lee-on-Solent and Sumburgh will use existing facilities.

Bristow said Balfour Beatty, an infrastructure services company, would seek to use local firms to do the construction work.

Earlier this year, the Bristow Group won a 10-year contract from the Department for Transport to run the UK’s helicopter search and rescue operations from 2015, taking over from the RAF and Royal Navy.

The new helicopter bases will be fitted with environmental technologies such as PV solar panels and rainwater harvesting systems.

‘Ideally suited’

Bristow managing director Mike Imlach, said: “Our experienced crews have fed into the design process and worked closely with the architects to ensure that the new bases are ideally suited to safe and efficient SAR operations.

“The identical interior layouts across the country will make it easy for our crew members to work from alternative bases should they need to.

“Each site will provide modern, high quality accommodation for the aircraft and crews while demonstrating how buildings like this can be made highly sustainable and environmentally friendly.”

Hector MacAulay, from Balfour Beatty, said the contract would be managed through the firm’s Edinburgh office.

He added: “We will use our extensive experience of airport construction work to deliver these projects which are vital to the ongoing success of this emergency service throughout the UK.

“We look forward to working with our local suppliers to provide facilities that fulfil our customer’s expectations.”

Sourced by BBC News Highlands & Islands

St Athan return for World War II pilot training aircraft

Hornet Moth

By Neil Prior, BBC News

The Hornet Moth was ‘easy-to-fly, easy-to-maintain’

The St Athan military base in the Vale of Glamorgan will celebrate its 75th anniversary with a special homecoming on Tuesday.

Newly-appointed commanding officer, Wing Commander Robert Balls, will welcome back one of the first planes which ever took off from there when the old air base opened in 1938.

The De Havilland Hornet Moth was a two-seater biplane whose design was already outdated even before the start of hostilities.

But as Brian Acott, St Athan’s archivist and military historian explains, it nevertheless holds a special place in the hearts of everyone on the base.

“You could say the Hornet Moth and St Athan have a similar story in some ways,” he said.

“Events and technology moved so quickly during the late 1930s and 40s that both were thought to have been obsolete before they’d seen action.

“St Athan was intended to have been a maintenance base beyond the reach of the Luftwaffe but the fall of France put paid to that, and the development of rapid monoplane fighters meant that the Hornet Moth was far too slow and vulnerable for combat duties.

“But 75 years on both are still going strong.”

Once it had been rejected for air combat, the RAF’s fleet of Hornet Moths were transferred to 32 Squadron, Maintenance Unit (32MU) and 4 Squadron, School of Technical Training (4TT).

Powered by a single 130 horsepower Gypsy engine and weighing roughly the same as a Ford Fiesta, it could cruise at around 80mph.

At St Athan they found new roles as submarine spotters, air taxis and even for helping to calibrate early radar installations.

‘Flying continuously’

Their simplicity, stability and reliability also made them the ideal plane on which to train novice pilots and ground crew from St Athan.

A testament to their durability is that of around 160 built, somewhere between 25 and 30 are thought to still be in airworthy condition 75 years later.

W9385 G-ADND – still in her RAF livery – will be flown into MoD St Athan by her current owner David Weston.

“People say the design was outdated even then but it was always intended to be an easy-to-fly, easy-to-maintain workhorse, and it does it brilliantly,” he said.

“I bought her from the Shuttleworth Collection in Bedfordshire in 1996 and, apart from a slight crash in 1971, she’s been flying continuously all her life and could easily go for another 75 years if she’s looked after properly.

“Once I learnt about her wartime history in St Athan I was thrilled to make her a part of their anniversary celebrations.

“I love the history behind vintage aeroplanes, as well as their mechanics and little idiosyncrasies but more than anything they’re a joy to fly. She’s not very fast, but feels like a machine not a computer.”

Mr Weston is flying around an hour from Wiltshire and, weather permitting, is hoping to touch down for the guard of honour at around 13:30 BST.

Sourced from BBC News

St Athan RAF base celebrates 75th anniversary

The Duchess of Kent inspecting a parade at St AthanBy Neil Prior

An RAF base once thought to have become obsolete within two years of opening is celebrating its 75th birthday.

The anniversary at St Athan will be marked with a day of special events including a service in the base’s chapel and a veterans parade.

There will also be a fly-by from many of the vintage aircraft stationed there over the years and dinner in the mess.

In recent years the Vale of Glamorgan airbase has reinvented itself as a state-of-the-art training facility.

It is also a rehabilitation centre for injured serviceman and is, according to its station commander, testament to the tenacity and versatility of all who’ve served there throughout its history.

The base had previously missed out on a multi-billion pound contract for an RAF academy, while at the same time losing its last remaining military aircraft maintenance contracts.

“We’re no strangers to having to compete for our very existence here at St Athan”, said Wing Cmdr Paul Regan.

“But the fact that we’re still here, in such tough economic times for the MoD, shows that the work we do is vital across the armed forces.”

But the truth is, uncertainty over the future is nothing new to the staff of the base – its entire history has been a battle for survival.

‘Safe haven’

Originally conceived in 1938 as a maintenance base, the site was chosen because it was thought that south Wales would lie beyond the range of Luftwaffe bombers.

But within two years of 32 Squadron, Maintenance Unit (32MU) and 4 Squadron, School of Technical Training (4TT) moving in, the concept of a safe haven had been rendered obsolete.

On 20 June 1940, a German attack on RAF St Athan launched from captured French airfields brought the war to Wales for the very first time.

The Duke of Edinburgh at St Athan The Duke of Edinburgh visiting St Athan

Brian Acott, St Athan’s archivist and military historian, who served 37 years with 4TT from 1955, said the base faced an uncertain future.

“Once the notion had been shattered that the RAF could have a site beyond the reach of the Luftwaffe, where they could maintain and repair aircraft at their leisure, the War Office began to question whether St Athan offered anything they didn’t already have at other bases,” he said.

“The other problem was that at the height of the war, and particularly during the Battle of Britain, we were going through planes at such a rate, that the whole idea of even bothering to repair them at all seemed like King Canute trying to hold back the waves.

“So we had to re-invent ourselves for the first time, becoming experts in the reclamation of badly-needed spares from irreparably damaged aircraft, thus finding a niche to carry us through the rest of the war.”

According to Wing Cmdr Regan, it’s a tradition which persists to this day.

“The recruits who come to St Athan today arrive with 10 weeks basic training and leave eighteen months later with such a range of engineering skills that we often have a job to hold onto them within the forces,” he added.

“We may not do the glamorous work here, but our graduates are the young men and women with the ability to repair equipment under fire, or manufacture a bespoke part for an aircraft in the middle of Afghanistan when it could take weeks to fly one in from the UK.”

Fighter jets

St Athan ran into controversy in the 1950s when the base was given the task of maintaining Vulcan Bombers which carried Britain’s nuclear warheads.

But when the nuclear deterrent shifted from bombers to submarines, 32MU’s future in south Wales was again thrown into doubt.

St Athan, Vale of Glamorgan The airbase has become a state-of-the-art training facility and rehabilitation centre

During the late 1960s and early 1970s St Athan was earmarked for closure, before another MoD U-turn brought them the maintenance contract for the RAF’s fleet of VC10 air tankers, followed a few years later by the newly-launched Tornado fighter jets.

It was to mark a high point in the base’s public relations, once again gaining popular affection by exploiting the variety of new planes present to hold annual Battle of Britain air shows throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

But the new century brought a string of raised and dashed hopes, as fast jet maintenance was taken elsewhere and the base was then overlooked for a £12bn military academy.

Wing Cmdr Regan added: “Many of the veterans we have attending the celebrations have told me that in 1938 – and on pretty much every year since – people have confidently predicted that St Athan wouldn’t see the year out.

“But with the excellent work of 4TT training ground crew, and 14 Signal Regiment based here through 2018 and beyond, I’m confident that on its 75th birthday St Athan remains as relevant as ever.”

Sourced by BBC News

Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson on his airline ambitions

By Russell HottenBusiness reporter, BBC News, Paris Air Show

Bruce Dickinson
Bruce Dickinson in business mode at the Paris Air Show and doing his “part-time job” with Iron Maiden

Bruce Dickinson arrived for his BBC interview wet, hot, but in remarkably good spirits.

The lead singer with rock band Iron Maiden – and aviation fanatic – was at the Paris Air Show to unveil expansion plans for an aircraft maintenance business he started last year.

The usual chaos and gridlock, that have become an annoying inevitability of travelling to the show, were compounded by a lightning storm.

Mr Dickinson ended up abandoning his taxi on the motorway and walking a mile in the rain. But it has not dented his enthusiasm.

“It’s great to be here,” he says. “I’ve done Farnborough [the UK air show] but never Paris. It’s all very exciting.”

He left the show a few hours later, heading for Berlin where Iron Maiden’s world tour continues. “But I should be back on Thursday,” he says. Despite his love of all things aviation, Dickinson adds: “I’m here to do business, not watch the displays.”

Doing deals

Last year, he set up Cardiff Aviation, a joint venture with business partner Mario Fulgoni, a pilot and airline executive.

They took over a fully-equipped former RAF maintenance facility at St Athan, just outside Cardiff. The site can park 20 narrow-body airlines, and the hangar is big enough to house a Boeing 767-300, just smaller than a jumbo jet. There is also a 6,000ft runway.

With an initial investment of £5m from a mix of government and private sources announced on Monday, the pair want to make it a centre for repairing and maintaining civil aircraft.

There are also plans to open a pilot training facility, and Dickinson is in advanced talks about setting up an airline leasing-cum-charter operation. It will be what is called an ACMI airline – providing aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance.

He says: “Asia and the Middle East is going to be where the huge growth in aviation will be. But the smart way to start an airline is not to spend huge sums of money up front, but to come to companies like us.

“Our ambition at Cardiff Aviation is to create a sort of one-stop shop,” he says. “A lot of maintenance facilities are closing, especially in Europe because of high labour costs and inefficiency. We have not inherited that.”

Dickinson said his business is close to securing a deal to become the sole provider of maintenance to an aircraft leasing company, and he was in Paris to discuss possible contracts with airlines.

He says: “It’s early days, but our business plan is perfectly achievable. We are already in profit and have no big debts. I think that’s pretty good.”

Engineering in his blood

Bruce Dickinson at Cardiff AviationDickinson, here at Cardiff Aviation, hopes to create many more jobs in Wales

The business employs about 80 people, though clearly if the expansion plans come to fruition that number will rise considerably, probably by many hundreds, he hopes.

There are complex certification procedures to pass, both for the maintenance operation and to start an airline. It will take time, he says, but things are progressing well.

Given the Iron Maiden fame, it’s easy to assume that Dickinson’s role in the venture is to open doors with prospective clients. “It helps,” his business partner Fulgoni admits.

But it is clear that Dickinson loves being both an entrepreneur and involved in building something that could mean investment and jobs. Music, he said, is now a “part-time job” that brings in the money, he joked.

Dickinson went to his first air show aged five, and got his fascination with aircraft from his dad, an engineer, and uncle, who worked for the RAF. “Don’t ask me to put up a shelf, but I love engineering.”

And that was his cue to go off on a passionate five-minute rant about the failings of the educational system, and engineering itself.

“Teachers need to be more inspirational. But it’s also up to engineering to make itself more interesting.

“Engineering stimulates the mind. Kids get bored easily. They have got to get out and get their hands dirty: make things, dismantle things, fix things. When the schools can offer that, you’ll have an engineer for life,” he says.

He got his pilot’s licence in 1991, gaining more qualifications and experience so that he could fly bigger planes on longer journeys. He began flying Iron Maiden on tour, and then got a job with the now-defunct British World Airlines.

Later he became a pilot for Icelandic-owned charter airline Astraeus. That collapsed in 2011. “I was in the air when it happened, flying a group of pilgrims returning from Jeddah to Manchester,” he recalls.

He does not do much piloting these days. Some of the shine has been taken off the job, because most modern aircraft are flown by computers these days, not pilots.

“You just need a pilot in the cockpit in case something goes wrong,” he says.

“It’s still a huge thrill to take off and land. But when you are in a plane, you are in the hands of the engineers. That’s where it’s at these days.”

Sourced from BBC Business News

Aviation firm co-founded by Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson secures £5m investment

Aircraft maintenance and flight training company Cardiff Aviation Limited was established in July last year

 Bruce Dickinson
Bruce Dickinson

A Cardiff aircraft maintenance business co-founded by the lead singer of Iron Maiden is set to be pumped with a £5m investment in what will help the company have a “much wider impact across the entire South Wales aerospace industry”.

Cardiff Aviation Limited, the aircraft maintenance and flight training organisation established last July by veteran rock star Bruce Dickinson and business partner Mario Fulgoni, has agreed inward investment of £5 million.

Finance Wales, the UK SME investment company and Welsh Government subsidiary, has contributed £1.6m to the project, with the remainder of the sum coming from private or privately-owned investors including Dickinson and Fulgoni.

Fulgoni, The company’s joint chief executive, said the money would allow for expansion of their senior management team as well as letting the business build on the list of maintenance and operational approvals certification it already possesses.

This will include the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Part 21 Design Approval.

“This means Cardiff Aviation Limited will be permitted to manufacture and certify aircraft parts alongside our maintenance and training operations, thereby providing us with a full opportunity to exploit the range of technical equipment and expertise we acquired in taking over Twin Peaks from the RAF, and in establishing Cardiff Aviation,” said Mr Fulgoni.

Finance Wales’ part in the investment came from the £150 million Wales JEREMIE Fund, and Mr Dickinson is hopeful the money will spur on the existing growth already made by the fledgling company.

Joint CEO and singer Mr Dickinson, who is himself a 7,000 hour Boeing 757 pilot, said: “The Welsh Government has played a fantastic role in a difficult economic environment in providing tremendous support and enthusiasm. Finance Wales’ long-term backing is the fuel not just to put St Athan on the map, but has the potential to create a consequentially much wider impact across the entire South Wales aerospace industry.

“As for Cardiff Aviation, the first key role we plan to fill is that of commercial director. We will follow up with expansion of the operational and technical teams to address our current growth trend and increasingly lucrative contracts with both UK and international aviation businesses. We also plan to invest in more engineering equipment to supplement and enhance the already excellent technical capability at Cardiff Aviation.”

With the company located at St Athan Enterprise Zone in the Vale of Glamorgan, it boasts 32,000sq ft of hangar space capable of accommodating aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 767-300, and parking for up to 20 narrow bodied commercial airliners.

Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology Jeff Cuthbert said new growth would open up more opportunities for Cardiff Aviation and “expand their capability”.

And Finance Wales’ Senior Investment Executive, Nick Larcombe said Mr Dickinson and Mr Fulgoni’s “passion for the aviation industry” would “drive the business forward”.

The cash injection will now see Cardiff Aviation target the $2 billion European MRO market, which is currently growing at around three per cent a year as commercial airlines look to outsource fleet maintenance.

Gerallt Jones, head of corporate and banking at Hugh James, the law firm engaged as legal advisers on the deal, said:  “It is very pleasing to see such an ambitious business establish itself in Wales and contribute to the rapidly expanding aviation sector in the region. We have worked with numerous aviation clients in recent years and we are committed to helping businesses, like Cardiff Aviation, attract investment and grow in a sector which has the potential to provide major employment opportunities and considerable economic benefit to Wales.”

Sourced from Wales Online

South Wales Aviation Group reach milestone

An aviation enthusiast website based in the Vale of Glamorgan has reached a significant milestone this month as their number of hits on their blog hit 2 million views.

The South Wales Aviation Group which is an enthusiast website that logs the arrivals and departures of almost every aircraft in and out of both Cardiff Airport and MoD St Athan has been running since 2006.  The website was the brainwave of Mr Ian Grinter after realising the benefits of the Internet in recording the aircraft arrivals and departures.

He said “The site was a brainwave of mine back in January 2006. Years ago in the 70s when I started spotting there were quite a crowd of us that would go to the airport  when we weren’t at school and collect numbers of visiting aircraft. It got to a stage that we would see aircraft whilst in school or at home and then tried to find out the registrations and would ring each other trying to find out.”

He continued, “We had the idea of keeping a book behind the information desk and whoever visited the airport would write down their sightings in the book, this was a big success and was used a lot.  It dawned on me one night that a similar thing could be achieved with the Internet and I set out to find a free site that could work and not looked back since!”

The Wales Air Forum are regular visitors of the website as it provides us with reliable information regarding ad-hoc and diverts movements for both Cardiff Airport and MoD St Athan which makes it possible for us to perform our monthly logs.

The blog also provides information regarding residents based at Cardiff, MoD St Athan, Swansea and Pembrey along with the status of aircraft Hunter Flying Ltd, eCube Solutions LLP and Cardiff Aviation Ltd.

The website is updated by several dedicated individuals throughout the day and night.  This ensures that South Wales Aviation Group is a trusted and valuable resource.  Many of the members can be seen at the flying club in Rhoose which offers a great vantage point for viewing aircraft and taking photo’s.

View website: Cardiffstathan.blogspot.co.uk