When many of us think of airports, we picture the giant international transport hubs like Heathrow, serving millions of passengers from all over the world. We think of controversies surrounding extra terminals, new runways, noisy flight paths and discontent residents. What few of us often consider are the many small, local airfields and aerodromes which play a vital role in British aviation.
Britain has been right at the centre of aviation development since the early days of true powered flight, with entire industries built up around one dream: to take to the skies. We host some of the largest international airports on the planet, which receive vast subsidies from the government to keep our little islands connected to the rest of the world.
However, on the other end of the spectrum are over 200 local airfields, many of which face huge uphill battles to remain in operation.
Why are local airfields important?
Many of these sites date back to World War II or even earlier, and have long, proud records of serving both their local communities and the country at large. Many also host thriving communities of aviation enthusiasts, as well as providing training and encouragement for rookie pilots all over the country.
You might be surprised to learn that many smaller airfields also play a role in wildlife conservation. Certainly we wouldn’t often think of airports and wildlife as being all that compatible, but in fact the opposite may well be true. Unlike agricultural land, which makes up much of what we think of as the ‘countryside’, airfields preserve large stretches of land with very little use of harmful insecticides, herbicides and other chemicals, allowing certain plants and animals to thrive where they may not elsewhere. That’s why airfields = greenfields.
Why are airfields in danger?
Before 2003, there were protections in place which effectively helped to keep local British aerodromes from being redeveloped. However, due to a so-called ‘administrative oversight’, this barrier to development was removed, reclassifying airfields as ‘brownfield’ sites. This paved the way for developers to move in, closing down these vital spaces.
Every year we lose more of these little gems of aviation history to closure, costing jobs and harming local economies as well as effectively wiping out opportunities for local aviation training. While the current planning policy remains, there is little that can be done to save the aerodrome network from a slow demise.
So, how can we help?
The first step towards changing the status quo is to force the government to open a discussion. And one of the most effective ways of doing that is to gather signatures. Yes, we know, online petitioneering is far from sexy and you are bombarded daily with requests to sign various petitions, but the reason there are so many is because they can actually have an effect. Any petition receiving at least 10,000 signatures must receive an official government response. Even better, if a petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it must be considered for discussion in parliament.
So, if you want to do your bit to stop the imminent closure of our valuable aviation spaces, click on the link and sign the petition. If we don’t become vocal supporters now, we may all too soon find that we have lost the battle before we even knew it had begun. And that means no more flying lessons.