NATS criticises £500m turbine project

Aviation firm, National Air Traffic Services (NATS), has raised concerns about a proposed wind farm near Prestwick Airport, claiming that the blades of wind turbines could create "clutter" on radar screens, endangering nearby aircraft.

The farm, which is being managed by Scottish and Southern Energy Renewables (SSE), will be located 35 miles east of Prestwick, on either side of the M74 motorway.

SSE wants to build 152 turbines on the site, with a view to infusing the Scottish power grid with an extra 548 megawatts of electricity, enough to keep toasters running in 320,000 homes.

However, the development could ‘blind’ NATS’ traffic tower at Prestwick Airport to approaching aircraft. The aviation firm appears to be particularly concerned about light planes, which have smaller radar signatures, and are more likely to be hidden beneath other radar objects, such as windmill blades.

Criticism from NATS appears to have taken SSE by surprise. The energy firm has “miscalculated the impact” that the windmills could have on Scottish aviation, according to local newspaper, the Evening Times, prompting organisers to delay the project for up to a year and a half.

A statement on the NATS website reads, “Wind farms can degrade the performance of voice communications facilities and en-route navigation aids.” To compensate, the company has been given 18 months to build a new traffic tower in Glasgow, which should counteract any negative effects that the wind farm has on radars.

NATS regularly assesses the impact of near-airport developments on aviation through a specialist department known as NERL (NATS En Route PLC).

Job losses at Prestwick

decision to pull half of its winter flights out of Prestwick Airport could have resounding consequences for the local workforce. The Ayrshire hub has revealed that up to a third of its permanent staff members could be fired, as passenger numbers at the airport continue to fall.

Prestwick employs around 410 people at present, including those housed in the various retail units around the site.

Job cuts will leave the hub shorthanded, but bosses have envisaged a plan to retrain staff to take on multiple tasks. Fire fighters could be encouraged to take on baggage handling duties, for example, but hopefully, the scheme doesn’t work in reverse: baggage staff are unlikely to be as efficient at dousing flames.

The airport will consult with unions and workers before axing any jobs. Iain Cochrane, the airport’s CEO, claims that Prestwick is ‘optimistic’ about the future, but warned that job cuts are ‘likely,’ – ‘these are extremely difficult times. I am very sorry to say that in this review it is likely that there will be redundancies.’

Mr. Cochrane went on to list the problems that the airport was facing, including the Air Passenger Duty and the growing trend in ‘staycations’ – Brits holidaying at home. Prestwick is at the mercy of Ryanair, however, and the airline’s decision to cut 52% of its winter flights has done damage to the tiny airport.

In December, Ayrshire MP, Brian Donohoe, warned Prestwick bosses about the possibility of a Ryanair exodus, and even went to the trouble of phoning rival airlines, in an attempt to lure extra business to the airport.

The MP’s clairvoyance will be of no comfort to Prestwick’s beleaguered workers now though, as many of them could be jobless by the time the advent calendars appear on supermarket shelves. Irene Oldfather, another Scottish MP, expressed ‘deep disappointment’ at the news.

Chocolate soothes stranded passengers

Last week, a Scottish police force bought chocolate and bottled water for 168 air travellers, after their Ryanair plane became stranded on a runway at Prestwick Airport. The aircraft, which was bound for Girona, Spain had been waiting on the Ayrshire tarmac for six hours, unable to take off.

There was nothing wrong with the plane, but a strike of air traffic controllers in France meant that airspace in Western Europe was subject to extensive queuing. The strike forced hundreds of cancellations at Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports. Teachers, train drivers, dockworkers, and factory hands were also refusing to work.

Ryanair’s ‘hostages,’ to quote the Scottish Sun newspaper, became agitated when staff refused to allow them any water or food. Travellers were permitted to use toilet facilities, but they were not allowed access to the aircraft’s bar, and told to remain in their seats in case the plane was granted clearance to fly.

The warm weather made the situation worse – with the engine switched off, the aircraft’s fans were not functioning. The problem was exacerbated when a bottle of water was handed to the pilot, but not to any of passengers, many of whom were worried about their children becoming dehydrated.

Fearing a revolt, the budget carrier called Strathclyde police at 18.00. ‘It was hectic,’ explained Sarah Toom, one of the stranded passengers. ‘Parents with young kids were getting upset and raising their voices. There was a loud cheer when police showed up with food and water.’ No arrests were made, and the plane finally took off at 19.49.

Ryanair claims that its staff were following aviation laws by not allowing passengers access to bars and food trolleys. The airline has since apologised for the incident.

Group urges Prestwick rebrand

Almost 1,000 people have signed a petition to rename Glasgow Prestwick Airport to Robert Burns International. The petition, which originated on a Facebook page, urges airport bosses to embrace Burns as the airport’s namesake, rather than Scotland’s second city, Glasgow, which is located more than 32 miles to the northeast.

When Prestwick chief, Steve Fitzpatrick, decided to adopt a new slogan in 2005, local people were eager to see which elements of Ayrshire life he would choose to immortalise on the terminal walls. Mr. Fitzpatrick promised to provide something ‘fun, and a little bit edgy,’ that would attract foreign visitors to local attractions.

Five years later, many Ayrshire residents are still reeling from Mr. Fitzpatrick’s edgy slogan, which not only embraced life in the wrong city, it implied that Prestwick Airport was little more than a concrete zombie. The words ‘Pure Dead Brilliant,’ a Glaswegian colloquialism, ultimately became both a slogan for a Scottish airport, and a lesson in how not to market a business.

Glasgow Prestwick is therefore, one of the most oddly named airports in the UK. The new Facebook petition seeks to fix the hub’s moniker, however, by exorcising all traces of Glasgow from the airport’s name, and by embracing a true local hero in Robert, or ‘Rabbie’, Burns.

‘It’s an embarrassment leaving and entering Prestwick as it is,’ Colin Shearer, a concerned campaigner, explained. ‘Belfast has George Best and Liverpool has John Lennon. Both will be forgotten long before Robert Burns.’

The poet and lyricist was born just four miles to the south of Prestwick, in the town of Alloway, Ayrshire.

‘Roads blocked’ by airport visitors

Parking costs at Prestwick Airport are so high that many travellers are opting to leave their cars on the streets, much to the dismay of local residents. The issue is not a new one, having been passed from consultant to councillor for over two years, but householders recently renewed their efforts to unclog residential roads.

According to the South Ayrshire Council, all parking-related offences are the domain of the police force. Councillors have nevertheless earmarked £100,000 to solve Prestwick’s congestion problems, whilst urging the airport to reduce parking costs, and help improve an ‘utterly ridiculous’ situation,

Residents called into question the dedication of local traffic wardens, who have let rule-breakers go without so much as a stern word. Prestwick’s householders have also asked the council to keep an eye on roads susceptible to stationary traffic, in a bid to prevent further violations by airport travellers.

Local councillor, Helen Moonie, was incredulous – ‘It costs less to fly on holiday than park at the airport for two weeks. That’s the real problem. I’ve even heard of examples where people park in the street and then catch a cab to the airport.’

The airport is currently selling parking spaces for up to £70 per fortnight, depending on whether the customer books in advance. A pre-booked space is around £10 cheaper. Mrs. Moonie warned that congestion could become uncontrollable if the problem was left untended.

South Ayrshire Council has already attempted to alleviate the concerns of residents by conducting research into parking behaviour around the airport. The final report, which recommended a number of changes to local parking laws, was not well received by residents, and many felt that the council did not attempt to back up its promises with tangible results.

Related Links

£574 for a Parking Space

Parking Scam Smashed by Council

Ryanair loves Prestwick

In December, Ayrshire MP Brian Donohoe lamented Ryanair’s stranglehold on Prestwick Airport, warning that one axed flight could spell tragedy for the travel hub.

Just three months into the New Year, Mr Donohoe’s dislike for Prestwick Airport appears wholly forgotten about after Ryanair announced yet another expansion to its Ayrshire base. From the beginning of May, the Irish carrier is to add an extra flight per week to five destinations, including Carcassonne in France and Palma in Spain.

The news comes just weeks after Ryanair commissioned a new maintenance hanger to be built at Prestwick, the second of its kind in the area. The airport is also the home of the largest control tower in Europe, again completed within the last few weeks.

Prestwick’s future is not as bright as it seems, however: passenger numbers are still well below normal. In January, just over 100,000 people flew from Prestwick Airport, a 22% nosedive on the same period last year. The airport’s owner, Infratil, a company from New Zealand, blamed poor weather for the lull, despite Prestwick’s reputation as one of the most resilient airports in the UK.

With regard to Ryanair’s latest expansion, Brian Donohoe was bursting with joy. He said that the "enormous surge in business" was "very, very good news", and said that he was "absolutely delighted". The MP, who represents the Labour Party, is a keen follower of the airport’s fortunes.

Ryanair has almost trebled its presence at Prestwick since December: the carrier now has six aeroplanes on the runway and 29 routes on its Ayrshire schedules. The latest announcement also extends the firm’s commitment to Malaga and Alicante in Spain, and Faro in Portugal by one flight per week.

Maintenance hangar could create 200 jobs

Michael O’Leary’s airline, Ryanair, is to build a new maintenance hangar at Prestwick airport, creating up to 200 jobs. The carrier has also announced an extension of its sun and sea routes from the Scottish airport, commencing in May 2010.

Prestwick might not be the most famous airport in the UK, and few people can claim to know exactly where it is, but the site has an illustrious history, being the only place in Britain to have felt the feet of the late Elvis Presley, and having the largest control tower in Europe within its perimeter.

The airport is increasingly becoming a focus for new aviation technologies, surpassing even the largest regional sites, such as Birmingham, Manchester, and Glasgow airports, and etching out a niche as one of the most reliable airports in Britain. Prestwick is rarely beaten by the elements.

O’Leary’s new hangar, which will become the second such building under Ryanair control, could boost the number of airline jobs in the area to 2400, cementing the carrier’s position as one of the largest employers in the Ayrshire region.

Construction will be subsidised by the Scottish government, to the tune of £1.5m in training grants and business funding. Alex Salmond, First Minister of the Scottish National Party, praised Ryanair’s efforts to support the local economy:

“Ryanair makes a substantial contribution to Scotland’s economy through its engineering facilities. Investment at Prestwick supports this government’s ambition to increase sustainable economic growth by creating quality new jobs."

The airline recently announced three new routes at Edinburgh, including Scotland’s first ever route to Morocco.

Related Links

Europe’s Largest Control Tower

Prestwick Depends on Ryanair

Prestwick Weathers Fog Fiasco

‘Europe’s largest’ air traffic control centre

Prestwick has become the home of the largest air traffic control centre in Europe, as part of a plan to streamline traffic operations throughout the UK. The structure will have responsibility for almost half of the country’s aircraft movements when a similar centre in Manchester is closed later this year.

Costing around £180m to build, Prestwick’s new centre will watch out for aeroplanes in Scotland, Northern England and Ireland, and the skies over the Atlantic Ocean. The total area of responsibility is in excess of 2m square kilometres.

A second control centre, located in Hampshire, will guard the Midlands, Wales, London, and the Home Counties.

The are controlled by National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which employs roughly 800 people at the Prestwick centre alone. A further 130 controllers will be relocated to Scotland when the Manchester centre is closed.

Prestwick boss, Pauline Lamb, was delighted with the new air traffic control centre – “We started building in 2005, and now here we stand fully operational, under budget and on time. There is a real sense of achievement for everybody involved."

The control centre will be officially opened on the 5th of February, at a ceremony attended by Princess Anne. The centre is the second such building at the site, standing near a similar structure that was built in the 1980s.

Prestwick will now handle up to a million flights a year, encompassing both civilian and military aeroplanes. In total, NATS was responsible for the well-being of 2.2m aircraft during 2009, a reduction of 9.6% over 2008.

Related Links

Revamp for Tumbledown Tower

Prestwick weathers fog fiasco

Woolly hats are back in fashion again, after the British weather took a turn for the worst over the weekend. Snow flurries, heavy rain and blanket fog have caused chaos up and down the country, with many UK airports encountering long delays.

Edinburgh and Glasgow airports were forced to concede to stubborn fog on Friday – ten flights were redirected to Prestwick, but delays continued to mount up. Planes from Liverpool and Stornoway, a small town on the Isle of Lewis, and distant Southampton have also found their way to the Ayrshire airport. Prestwick has been asked to prepare for more arrivals. Flights from Scotland to London were similarly affected, after fog sneaked into Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted.

Meteorologists noted that temperatures were as low as minus seven in Aberdeenshire, with more cold weather expected over the coming days. Snowfall continues to pester the north of England.

Low temperatures, and an absence of strong winds have compounded the problems experienced by Glasgow and Edinburgh, as fog will not move unless it is evaporated or blown away.

Prestwick enjoys relatively clear skies all year round, however, making it a perfect haven for planes stuck in the mist. Iain Cochrane, boss at Prestwick, was unfazed by the change in the weather – “Our staff are doing an excellent job in helping passengers get to their destinations with minimal inconvenience.”

Edinburgh Airport has advised all travellers to be prepared for delays. Please contact your airline directly if you have any concerns about your flight.

Prestwick depends on grumpy airline

Prestwick Airport depends on Ryanair for its income, according to Ayrshire MP, Brian Donohoe. The airline offers more than ten direct flights from the Glasgow site, many of which travel to continental Europe.

Ryanair is no stranger to the headlines. Stuff the firm into your favourite search engine, and a catalogue of hidden charges, flight cancellations, and executive rants will meet you on the screen.

Probe a little deeper and you’ll discover that Ryanair was instrumental in the job cuts that blighted this year’s warm summer.

After deserting Robin Hood Airport altogether, the airline struck a blow to handling firm, Servisair, by cutting its winter sun schedule into tiny pieces. Newcastle was similarly hit, but soon found solace in budget airline, Jet2.

Mr. Donohoe fears that Ryanair’s tempestuous relationship with the aviation industry could pose a threat to Prestwick Airport, after summer cutbacks reduced the number of seats available to Scottish travellers by thirty percent.

The MP has begun phoning other airlines in a desperate bid to draw more business to the Glasgow airport.

“Prestwick has practically all of its eggs in one basket. If Ryanair cuts just one service, this has knock-on effects; not just on the airport itself, but on many other businesses in the area.” Mr. Donohoe explained.

The timing of the announcement was unusual, however. Ryanair recently revealed an extension to its operations at Prestwick, including one new route to Carcassonne, France.

Despite adopting a "cautiously optimistic" stance on Prestwick’s future, Mr. Donohoe is clearly taking no chances with Michael O’Leary’s airline.

Related Links

Robin Hood Stung by Budget Airline

RyanAir Blamed for Job Cuts

Jet2 Adds Five New Routes