Biggin Hill has lift off as airports shut down

PUBLISHED: 16:40 22 April 2010 | UPDATED: 10:54 12 August 2010

IT WAS a rare sight in the sky this week as planes took off from Biggin Hill while the rest of the country s airports came to a standstill.

IT WAS a rare sight in the sky this week as planes took off from Biggin Hill while the rest of the country's airports came to a standstill.

But with the historic airfield only operating at 20 to 25 per cent of its normal capacity pilots said the economic backlash could turn very serious quickly not just for companies based there but also for the rest of the UK.

Business has taken a massive knock because of the volcano which continued to billow out dust cloud on Tuesday making the majority of European airspace a no-go zone.

Trained pilot Simon Ames, who works at Biggin Hill, said the airport was working on an 'hour by hour' basis to get planes airborne again with four conference calls per day between management and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the National Air Traffic Services (NATS).

He said: "One of the major problems is the fact that the North American jets can't get here. They carry very important business people who make very important decisions. It is affecting business all over the UK."

Crafts can fly using Visual Flight Rules where pilots use eyesight to look for other crafts. They fly at low levels in daylight whereas those that use Instrument Flight Rules - like jet engines - do not.

Mr Ames added: "I have never known this many aircraft to be grounded for so long.

"It's going to cause a lot of problems. It has led to a loss of business here which could become serious quickly."

Helicopters have been taking passengers to Paris from Biggin Hill to get into the Europe transport system, at a cost of around £2,500 per return flight.

Captain Peter Adams, 55, operates Skywatch from Biggin Hill, an organisation which supports the emergency services by locating those who have got into trouble on cliff tops or at sea.

He travelled with his wife Elizabeth to the Pyrenees on April 1 and was due to return home on Monday. He is hoping to get on a flight back to the UK this Saturday.

Mr Adams, a pilot since he was a teenager, believes more could have been done to keep the transport system going.

He said: "It's an overreaction. I know quite a few pilots who feel that this is air traffic control over reacting. They could have done more to cherry pick the flights that could fly. Scotland was completely free of dust at one point.

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