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CIVIL AVIATION : A GLOUCESTERSHIRE PERSPECTIVE

 
  Mention the word "airport" to anyone around Gloucester, Churchdown and Cheltenham and they will probably think first of Gloucestershire Airport at Staverton.

Developed from a flying club in 1936, Staverton still has a homely feel to it. Most of the aircraft are driven by one or two propellers and are there for pleasure or instruction. Alongside helicopters, business and visiting Royal jets and the flying horse boxes for the Cheltenham races too, there is only one scheduled service to the Channel Islands – again using a propeller aeroplane – although attempts have been made to widen the range of destinations to Dublin, Edinburgh and London City.

Gloucestershire Airport at Staverton with Gloster Javelin XH 903 gate guardian in the foreground

Gloucestershire Airport at Staverton with Gloster Javelin XH 903 gate guardian

The largest aircraft I can remember seeing at Staverton was a Lockheed C-130 Hercules – designed for short takeoffs on rough airfields – but I understand there were schemes in the 1960s to lengthen the runway to allow airliners as big as a Boeing 707 to land. Unfortunately this plan would not have been safe without a large portion of Churchdown Hill being removed, and although none of this expansion ever came to pass it does not mean that Gloucestershire will be unaffected by similar developments proposed around Britain. Indeed, Staverton’s small size and dispersed location may well be the key to its future success.

Gloster Meteor F8 WH 364 was stored at Kemble before being displayed at Gloucestershire Airport

Gloster Meteor F8 WH 364 was stored at Kemble before being displayed at Gloucestershire Airport

Apart from the ex RAF airfield at Kemble there are no active civilian airports in the Gloucestershire of 2005 that can handle large passenger jets themselves - let alone all the passengers and freight associated with them – on a regular basis. In fact the Boeing 747 that flew into Kemble a few years back did not fly out. It was there for scrapping.

Consequently, for international jet flight, Gloucestershire is dependent on larger airports in other counties: the nearest ones being London Heathrow, Bristol Lulsgate, Cardiff Rhoose and Birmingham Elmdon. These have to be reached by car ( with long term parking often necessary ) coach or train and so the provision of motorways, trunk roads and railways is also vital to their accessibility and usefulness.

THE CHALLENGE OF GROWTH

Were air passenger numbers static, this lack of local international airport provision would not necessarily be a problem. However, gridlocked roads and under capitalised railways are being further stretched by ever growing demands for jet travel to both Europe and destinations beyond.

While there were less than 50 million UK air passengers in 1970, this number had swollen to 150 million by 1990,160 million in 1999 and180 million in 2001. According to the predictions of the British Government this number looks set to rise to 333 million by 2015 and perhaps even 450 million by 2020.

De Havilland Comet 1 displayed in BOAC colours at RAF Cosford

De Havilland Comet 1 displayed in BOAC colours at RAF Cosford

The increase since 1970 is arguably due to a higher standard of living among British people, leading to a desire for holidays in sunny foreign lands. Unlike the pioneering days of the De Havilland Comet, the jet set is no longer just for the privileged elite!

Tourism accounts for 80% of all passenger flights, while consumer affluence has also led to more exotic foods being air-freighted into Britain from all over the World. Indeed, freight aircraft are now so large and powerful that they can move railway locomotives across oceans and provide a practical alternative to maritime shipping.

Similarly, with the decline of traditional manufacturing, Britain also has an increased dependence on inward business and leisure tourism. All these potential movements have been made easier by the mass introduction of very large aircraft – such as the Boeing 747 and its Airbus Industrie rivals. During the 1990s though, air travel grew by 5% largely because of very inexpensive no-frills airlines. Firms such as Go, Buzz, EasyJet and Ryanair now serve many European destinations with tickets often booked at short notice on the Internet.

A German ICE EMU crosses Altenbeken Viaduct, Westphalia, in April 2004

A German ICE EMU crosses Altenbeken Viaduct, Westphalia, in April 2004

However, these low-cost airlines use scarce airspace that could be employed to ease the congestion of long haul flights that cannot be replaced by high-speed trains either within Britain or to Europe via the Channel Tunnel. Indeed, Germany plans to replace all internal passenger flights with high-speed trains by 2012.

According to the Aviation Environment Federation too, 40% of flights from London cover less than 500 km but – says Professor Stephen Glaister of Imperial College, London - "Aviation costs are going down rapidly and railway costs are going up rapidly". The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution similarly suggests that the British Government constrain airport expansion so that domestic flights are eschewed in favour of more profitable long-haul ones. From an environmental perspective too, very short and very long flights are most wasteful of fossil fuel and most polluting. For modern jetliners, transatlantic journeys are optimum.

CIVIL AVIATION AND THE BRITISH ECONOMY

Already air traffic control can barely cope with current demands on airspace and British Airports Authority (BAA) has stated that its airports at Heathrow, Stanstead and Gatwick will be running at maximum capacity by 2012. Against this background of congestion too, desire for new extra capacity is not simply about shifting goods and passengers to and from Britain. There are wider economic and political considerations.

A Boeing 737 of Air France taxis past a Boeing 747 of China Airlines Cargo at Manchester Ringway Airport on 12 September 2003.

A Boeing 737 of Air France taxis past a Boeing 747 of China Airlines Cargo at Manchester Ringway Airport on 12 September 2003.

On 23 July 2002 the British Government claimed that "huge economic benefits will follow the threefold expansion of air travel during the next 30 years". It also claimed that building three or four new runways in the South-East would generate 15 billion and create between 55 000 and 80 000 jobs, although if no new runways were built, air fares would rise by an average of 100.00 by 2030.

Similarly, Transport Secretary Alastair Darling said that Britain needed to maintain a "world class hub airport in the South East" to compete with the five runways at Amsterdam Schipol, the four at Paris Charles de Galle and the three at Frankfurt. His report also went on to say: "It is clear that, with demand for air travel set to increase, if we do not respond our European competitors will be well placed to serve that demand. Those countries would benefit and the UK would suffer."

Heathrow’s position as the World’s top international airport "is a leading factor in attracting inward investment to the whole of the UK" according to the British Government. In 2001 Heathrow handled 60.4 million passengers compared to 48.57 million at Frankfurt and had 275 200 people affected by its noise contour compared to 36 000 at Charles de Gaulle. However, only 29% of its passengers were transferring aeroplanes ( compared to 42% at Schipol) and only 161 scheduled destinations were served compared with 280 at Frankfurt. The number of daily flights was also smaller at Heathrow (1249) than Charles de Gaulle (1410)

New Civil Engineer of 25 May 2000 also carried news of a report by the British Air Transport Association which claimed that more than 10 million potential passengers a year are lost through undercapacity at Heathrow Airport and that this figure would rise to 18.2 million by 2005.

THE TRUE COST OF AIR TRAVEL

However, the Institute for Public Policy Research said at the same time that the economic benefits of air travel had been greatly exaggerated. Although inward tourism brings 13 billion a year to Britain, Britons spend much more abroad – creating an annual deficit of 10 billion in fact. This gap, it is claimed, would only widen if new runways were built.

Avro York G-AGNV of BOAC was one of Britain's first post-War airliners

Avro York G-AGNV of BOAC was one of Britain's first post-War airliners

Indeed, it can also be argued that modern air travel is unrealistically cheap to begin with. Under the 1944 Chicago Convention, airlines pay no tax on fuel, a move aimed to encourage the fledgling post-War civil aviation industry. "If aviation fuel were taxed at the same rate as unleaded petrol, it would raise 5 billion a year, says transport expert Professor John Whitelegg. Similarly, aviation fuel, along with flight tickets and aircraft themselves are exempt from VAT, costing the British Treasury 1.8 billion a year. This is the equivalent of every British man, woman and child donating 182.45 a year to the aviation industry even before subsidies to aircraft makers or the cost of building road and rail links to airports is considered.

The Belgian Government meanwhile has taken this idea one step further by paying Ryanair 250 000 a year to use Brussels Charleroi airport in an attempt to stimulate jobs and tourism.

Furthermore, because airlines compete internationally, no country wants to put itself at a disadvantage by removing these concessions. However, it is possible that if the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) fails to make reforms then European Union may begin aviation fuel taxes of its own.

By then however, the airline industry might have changed so dramatically that simply extending the line on the growth graph may not be an appropriate means of predicting future airport capacity. In 2002 alone, British Airways sacked almost 10 000 staff and lost its place in the FTSE 100 ranking, even if it did not go into liquidation like Swissair and Sabena. The terrible events of 11 September 2001 in New York and Washington naturally dented public confidence in civil aviation, but even before then many airliners were taking off far from full. In fact the industry as a whole had as much as 30% excess capacity in terms of making adequate profits – with traditional national flag carriers being far less well patronised than the no-frills operators.

The distinctive tail of a three engined Hawker Siddeley Trident in British Airways markings preserved at RAF Cosford

The distinctive tail of a three engined Hawker Siddeley Trident in British Airways markings preserved at RAF Cosford

Indeed, one secret of the success of these low cost airlines is that they tend not to use the most expensive and prestigious airports – preferring Luton with its smaller landing fees to Heathrow for example. As a result the aircraft have to suffer less congestion in the air and on the ground, gain higher utilisation ( EasyJet gets about eleven hours work out of its airliners each day compared to British Airway’s eight for comparative duties) and so can thrive on smaller profit margins. Despite this, 37% of all flights in Europe were delayed during June 1999 and Dell computers alone claim to lose 10 million a year from executives being stuck at airports or in traffic jams near them.

A SMALL IMPROVEMENT

The downside of the "no-frills" philosophy is that the inexpensive, uncongested departure and arrival airports are often a long way from the urban centres that they purport to serve. However, although this may seem a weakness in an aviation world based on big jets in big airports with big infrastructure it could be a strength in a more democratised regime of civil flying.

Just suppose – for example - that after landing at – for sake of argument – Luton Airport, passengers from Europe did not head for the bus to take them on to the coach or railway station in the hatmaking town. Nor did they change buses or coaches on the way home. Instead they split into small groups to board single propeller air taxis, which would then take them to local airports near their homes or destinations. Local airports like Staverton in fact. Few businesses are more than half an hour’s drive from such an installation, of which there are 7800 in Europe and North America.

A crazy idea? Perhaps as crazy as driving a car through the sound barrier! But then the inspiration for such a high-utilisation air taxi service comes from World Land Speed Record Holder Richard Noble, who points out that even conventional business jets waste money by idling on the ground while executive passengers finish their meetings.

His visionary Farnborough F1 Project is focussed on the design, development and eventual manufacture of a 6-seat aircraft optimised to provide fast and flexible travel " on call" for journeys of up to 1 000 nautical miles. The low, laminar flow wings of the cost-effective high-acceleration single turboprop monoplane will give low drag at high speed yet high lift at low speed, allowing the nosewheel undercarriaged F1 to land on a runway only 800 m long - the length of the shortest of three runways at Gloucestershire Airport.

The all-composite airframe is also designed to allow volume manufacture and airframe longevity, making the F1 still less of a blunt instrument than many small turboprop feeder liners which need tens of people to make flights worthwhile.

Britten-Norman Trilander G-AZJA of Aurigny can carry 16 passengers to the Channel Islands

Britten-Norman Trislander G-AZJA of Aurigny can carry 16 passengers to the Channel Islands

Recently acquired by Farnborough Aircraft Corporation Ltd, the F1 Project could also provide a unique and convenient travel option for time sensitive travellers as one of a new generation of aircraft being developed to serve NASA's Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS). This aims to treble US airspace capacity and an eventual halve doorstep to destination journey times

Promoted by a partnership of various organizations including NASA, the FAA, US aviation industry, state and local aviation officials and universities, SATS aims to relieve America’s current highway gridlock and airport delays. Indeed, the US Congress has funded the SATS program with $9 million for fiscal year 2001 and has budgeted $69 million for a five-year proof of concept period. Pieces of the SATS technology and several SATS aircraft already exist: and SATS operational capability will be demonstrated in higher volumes of air traffic accommodated at non-radar, non-towered small airports. Lower landing minimums will also be established at minimally equipped small airports. Similarly, flight systems for improved safety and efficiency will be established and procedures for integration of SATS aircraft into existing air traffic management systems and the National Airspace System will be developed. SATS should be fully deployed at federal, state and local levels in 2015 with fully mature development by 2020

On a less technical level, SATS aims to give more time to more people, satisfying a large portion of the emerging public demand for safe, higher-speed mobility and increased accessibility to more suburban, rural and remote communities. SATS technology could thus enable economic development for communities of all sizes through localised air accessibility, because road, rail and hub-and-spoke transportation system delays could be avoided by such intermodal connectivity between over 5000 small airports and the global aviation system, using infrastructure already in place but under used.

At equivalent highway system costs, SATS could, it is claimed, reduce transportation times to more communities by half in ten years and by two-thirds in twenty-five years. Within this framework, the operating economics of the F1 will make it a valuable and attractive proposition to charter operators, air taxi operators and corporations wishing to provide a mode of transport enabling increased productivity of a mobile workforce. Operating costs per mile for the F1 are projected to be similar to an executive car, bringing affordable personalised travel at speeds of up to 400mph to a segment of air travellers for who business jets are out of viable economic reach. Cruising above the weather at altitudes of up to 35,000ft, the aircraft should quietly and efficiently move its passengers towards their destination whilst providing a luxury car level of comfort and refinement. European and US certification of the F1 ( visit www.Farnborough-Aircraft.com for full details) is expected by the end of 2006

BLACK CABS IN THE SKY?

A further insight into the possible use of sub jetliner level airspace comes from this article published in The Independent of Monday 8 November 2004.

Whether they will venture south of the Thames in London after dark is unclear, but the makers of a British designed "Jetpod" taxi, which they hope to introduce to British cities within five years, insist it will take you to your destination by the shortest route at 350 mph. The developer, Avcen, believes it can offer a flying taxi service which cruises at up to 750ft at little more than the cost of a black cab fare. Due to undergo "proof of concept" test flights in the next 18 months, the 500, 000 Jetpod would be able to travel the 24 miles from London to Woking in four minutes. The new aircraft would travel significantly faster than a helicopter and Avcen believes it could offer a flight from Heathrow to central London for less than 50.00.

If it all sounds a little too much like Luc Besson’s futuristic fantasy The Fifth Element , in which Bruce Willis played a flying cab driver, doubters are being told it will be come a reality if investors can be found to move it on to the next stage of development. "We believe once there is an aircraft that can do these things, cities will make space for it" said Avcen’s Managing Director, Mike Dacre. "We’re not talking about travelling to Paris. The whole point about this aircraft is that it will scoot you from the countryside to the centre of London in two or three minutes." The invention will raise the hackles of anti-noise campaigners already battling against increased air traffic and soaring road use. Avcen believes the airborne taxi’s twin turbojets will operate at noise levels 20 decibels less than a conventional jet, but this means it could still register up to 90 decibels, the same as a busy road. Mr Dacre described the five seater Jetpod as " a workhorse, a taxi cab in the air, for on-demand free-roaming traffic. We know that cities like Moscow, Tokyo and New York are crying out for something like this, and there’s nothing remotely like it around."

The key to success is technology that allows it to land on strips of land about 400 ft long, a tenth of the length of conventional runways. A systems of nozzles that direct part of the thrust down through the wings further reduces noise, and provides the aircraft’s short take off and landing capability.

Mr Dacre said that the idea was for each aircraft to fly along its own "corridor" in and out of a city from designated pick up points outside. "We see it very much as a ‘park and fly’ concept," he said "You drive to a pick up site, get on the aircraft and off you go. People shouldn’t think that these things are going to be whizzing around crashing into each other. They’ll be following set routes. Besides the air taxi, other Jetpod concepts include a personal jet, military and air ambulance versions. There is also an unmanned robot that Jetpod has designed with the ability to hover. It could be used for rescue missions or repair work while being controlled by operators 300 miles away.

The experiemental Dornier Do-31 of 1967 used two Rolls Royce Pegasus engines for vertical take offs and landings. It proved too noisy for regular airline services and is now in Deutsches Mueseum, Munich.

The experiemental Dornier Do-31 of 1967 used two Rolls Royce Pegasus engines for vertical take offs and landings. It proved too noisy for airline services and is now in Deutsches Mueseum, Munich.

CARS MIGHT FLY!

The further democratisation of the air looks set to move even further forward according to the following article from the Sunday Telegraph magazine of 14 November 2004. Harry Potter's flying Ford Zephyr doesn't seem quite so far fetched now!

The world has never been kind to flying car dreamers like Henry Smolinski, who died in 1973 when his Ford with the welded-on Cessna wings crashed; or Paul Moller, who balances working on his multi-engined Batmobile with life-extension experiments so he will still be alive when Skycars fill the skies over Los Angeles; or Rafi Yoeli, who built City-Hawk in the living room of his second floor apartment and had to remove a wall to get it out. Major car manufacturers won't let them through the door, nor do they get any respect from the earthbound drivers they hope to liberate from traffic. Probably the nicest thing that anyone has ever called Rafi Yoeli is "Don Quixote" - but he wasn't called that by the neighbours, who couldn't help hearing the constant hiss and crackle of his all-night welding. "People like to call me nuts," Paul Moller says, "I don't care. What innovative thinker hasn't been called a nut?" Moller, who has gambled millions of dollars and his 40 year reputation as an ace aeroplane engineer on getting Skycar into the air, pauses for a second, then repeats the word with unmistakeable pride: "Nut!" But that was the world of the past, before a troubled American freeway system and new security concerns prompted NASA to start taking the flying-car dreamers more seriously.

Over the past few years NASA has quietly shifted some of its attention from space exploration to the space right over our roofs. Not only is NASA developing its own flying cars, it's also working on a collision deterring navigation system that could make skyways safer than highways. "You can say our goal is to make the second car in every driveway a personal air vehicle" says Andrew Hahn, an analyst at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Hahn's engineers are already committed to a 15 year timeline for three successive generations of flying cars.

The first will resemble a compact Cessna aeroplane with folding wings that converts to road use; it should be available as a graduation gift by around 2010. The second, with launch planned for 2015, is a two person pod with small wings and a rear-mounted propeller. The third will rise straight up like a mini Harrier jet and should be on the market by the time your newborn has a provisional driving licence. The first of the three vehicles shouldn't cost more than a Mercedes. An affordable flying car within five years is a dizzyingly fast evolution - for everyone except Yoeli and other do-it-yourself auto pilots. They've been preparing for this future for decades and , unlike NASA, they can't afford to wait much longer.

When the ConvAirCar buzzed San Diego for more than an hour during a trial flight in November 1947 hopes rose as high as the hybrid craft itself. Would commuters soon be able to choose between highway and skyway? The 725 pound auto-plane prototype had a detachable fiberglass car body that people could drive like any other car.

In the February 1948 edition of National Geographic magazine F. Barrows Colton captioned this picture with the words:

When the ConvAirCar buzzed San Diego for more than an hour during a trial flight in November 1947 hopes rose as high as the hybrid craft itself. Would commuters soon be able to choose between highway and skyway? The 725 pound auto-plane prototype had a detachable fiberglass car body that people could drive like any other car.

Ed Sweeney has had the longest and most frustrating wait, because he is one of the few flying car men who has already been there; thanks to a lucky encounter years ago, he knows first hand what it feels like to drive a car in the clouds. In 1959 he was a 17 year old who flew his radio controlled model planes on a small airfield in Longview, Washington. While Sweeney played outside, an inventor and Navy pilot named Moulton (Molt) Taylor tinkered in a hangar nearby. Inventors have been trying to cross-pollinate cars and planes since the early days of both, but they always ran up against the difficulty of designing a vehicle light enough to achieve lift with a wing that was both small enough to fit on a street and sturdy enough for stormy skies. Miscalculations were often deadly. The ConvAirCar crashed in the desert on its third flight; the Roadable III smashed into the ground, as did Smolinski's airborne Ford after the wing struts collapsed. But a planemobile, Taylor reasoned, didn't have to always be both a car and a plane at the same time. What if the wings and propeller were just accessories that could be put on before takeoff, then removed after landing? You could tow the wings back home, or leave them at the airfield until the next flight. Beginning with a little yellow car that looked like a Mini Cooper, Taylor made a detachable wing-propeller combo that could be bolted snugly on to the back of his car in five minutes. After several solo test flights, Taylor took Sweeney up for a ride and even let the teenager pilot the car. They reached the end of the runway at a legal driving speed of 55 mph, got lift and kept on climbing. After a while, Taylor looked down and decided they had gone high enough. He had Sweeney guide the little yellow car through a few basic manoeuvres, then bring it down for a landing.

After hitting the runway smoothly, Sweeney braked as if he were parking his car in the driveway. Taylor worked to come up with a commercial version of the Aerocar and, according to Sweeney, was eventually on the verge of a deal with Ford in the early 1970s. Apparently the manufacturer got last minute jitters about linking its name to what could become an expensive flop and legendary joke, and killed the deal. Sweeney was later surprised to find the Aerocar for sale in the classifieds. he bought his old hero's dream and has since become obsessed with applying Taylor's original design to to the lighter, more aerodynamic Lotus. By the end of the year, Sweeney says, he hopes to finalise a deal with a major aerospace company and have a production model of the Aerocar ready for testing. the reason Taylor failed, Sweeney came to understand, was that the Aerocar was stuck in a sort of dead zone between two types of potential customer. Pilot's didn't want the boxy vehicle because they could get a far zippier plane for the same money; car drivers didn't want it either, because the Aerocar's top speed on the road was 60 mph and it couldn't be flown without a pilot's licence. And once drivers learned to fly, they became pilots and are right back in the first category.

To succeed where Taylor failed, Sweeney would have to make his Aerocar fly and drive faster than Taylor had ever planned. And the new generation of do-it-yourself makers of flying cars now had a chance of doing just that. Until the recent rise of the Hummers and SUVs the guiding principle of late 20th century car design were aerodynamics and superlight compound shells. It's almost as if Detroit were drafting its new models with men like Ed Sweeney in mind. the next crucial step was to simplify the controls. Sweeney would never make the Aerocar fly better than a plane, so he would have to make it elementary enough for the average commuter to master without full pilot's training. Here again, technology is paving the way. With radar, automatic transmissions and Global Positioning System navigation, there's no reason a flying car can't be as easy to handle as any VW, maybe even easier.

According to Andrew Hahn of NASA, most flying smart cars will be controlled by a simple joystick and come pre-programmed with anti-collision technology and self-correcting flight controls. "We don't want someone to look at the dash and say "Oh my God!" and get right out," Hahn says "With single lever acceleration, pilots won't have to go through such rigorous training to get accredited." Hahn estimates that training in flying smart cars could be done in five days for about 550 - about what it now costs to get a driver's licence. Automatic flight controls will be unnoticed if you do everything perfectly, bu they will override an incorrect manual landing plan. "Even if you have a heart attack" Hahn says "the computerised back-up will complete the flight for you." One beneficiary of computerised navigation is national security: thanks to GPS and mobile phone technology, flying cars could be tracked more easily than any road vehicle. NASA is already at work on a device that will function as an on-board air traffic controller, and the agency expects to have it ready in time for the debut its first flying car, the EQuiPT or Easy Quiet Personal Transport. (NASA prefers the term 'personal air vehicle' to 'flying car') The vehicle will automatically relay information on its location, so ground monitors and every other aircraft in the sky will know exactly who and where you are. ( A driver who sees a car that is in the air but not on the monitor can be expected to sound the alarm )

Automatic navigation will also keep airborne drivers from smashing in to one other. if the computerised navigation system senses a tree, or another plane, or the White House, it won't let you steer in that direction. "The technology already exists in the military, and we're adapting it so it can come standard on any personal air vehicle" says Sally Johnson, the technical leader of NASA's Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) project. "It's not a big jump to put these on flying cars" adds Johnson, who is in regular communication with Hahn and his EQuiPT team. "SATS is what will make flying cars possible" says Yoeli, who started with the simplest flying car concept of all. His first major invention, a flying boogie board he called the Hummingbird, came from the realisation that getting lift isn't really hard. Push air down, and up you go.

So he built a fan, pointed it at the ground and shot up into the air. To steer, he leaned right or left. The whole thing was so easy to assemble and such a breeze to fly, Yoeli says, that he became nervous about releasing it to the public. he had planned to make his fortune from it, but when most of the 1600 people who replied to his first advertisement sounded like Jackass style daredevils he decided had to find a way to make the Hummingbird safer. Yoeli figued he could make a stable, hovering, untippable flying platform by bolting two Hummingbirds together. "I've been involved in vertical take off and landing all my life" Yoeli says. He was an aerospace engineer in charge of a design team for Israeli Aircraft Industries before going to work for Boeing; later he returned to University for a PhD in artificial intelligence. He started his own aerospace consultancy which built prototypes of unmanned vehicles and helicopters, but once the idea of a flying car came to him, he sold his share in the company to devote himself to it full time. Yoeli was deep into the construction of CityHawk, which looked a lot like Luke Skywalker's landspeeder, when the terrorist attacks happened on 11 September. That should have put an end to his flying car fantasy right there - there was no ay anyone would now going to be allowed to drive through the air in a jet-propelled Subaru. And didn't the police have enough trouble without suspects taking wing during a chase? Just when Yoeli was finally clearing the technological hurdles, his dream of the future had become stuck in the world of the present. But Yoeli saw things differently, as any man who builds a full sized aircraft in a second floor apartment would. A year before the attacks, and purely by coincidence, Yoeli imagined CityHawk responding to exactly the kind of downtown disaster he had witnessed on television on 11 September. "Operation close to buildings will be no restriction for the CityHawk, and it will in fact be able to rescue trapped people inside high-rise buildings by hovering close to a window and allowing a person to step on to the platform" he wrote in an April 2000 press release. CityHawk would be a lifesaver, not a menace, from the start. Yoeli had designed it for inner city police patrols navigating urban canyons. It was precisely because of terrorist threats and the emergence of street-by-street urban warfare that flying cars were now inevitable, Yoeli insisted. he contacted high ranking American and Israeli military friends and asked if they would be interested in a superfast aircraft with a vertical range from mere inches to 12 000 feet. the response, he says, was a unanimous 'How soon can we get it?'

Once Yoeli saw the military interest in CityHawk, he began working on a far more powerful version, the X-Hawk. X-Hawk's propulsion comes from ducted fans, two encased propellers that push air downwards. Yoeli's special innovation was installing hundreds of small vanes at both ends of each fan, like the slats of venetian blinds. By adjusting the pitch of the vanes, Yoeli says, X-Hawk can make minute adjustments in any direction. And unlike a helicopter, he stresses, X-Hawk can hover inches from a building because the propellers are encased.

Moller Skycar N7184J is fuelled by alcohol and has a 900 mile range at 322 mph

Moller Skycar N7184J is fuelled by alcohol and has a 900 mile range at 322 mph

In California, Paul Moller is using similar technology to build his M400 Skycar, which looks like something that might come roaring out of the BatCave. Skycar has four seats, an in-flight speed of 350 mph and a range of 750 miles, and can fit in any standard parking space. Moller figures the first few M400s will cost about 250 000 - and even at that price he claims he has more than 100 customers already lined up.

As production increases, he forsees prices eventually dropping below 50 000. the future of Skycar, however, depends on whether he can get Federal Aviation Administration certification and keep raising cash; Moller claims it has already cost 55 million. Yoeli is also in a race against time. To stay afloat, he needs to start selling X-Hawks within the next few years. But he has one enthusiastic and well-financed partner lined up now. STAT MedEvac, an emergency-rescue company based in Pittsburgh, can't wait to get its hands on the first FAA approved X-Hawks. "This can be a very profitable investment for us" says James Bothwell, the CEO of STAT MedEvac. "When using helicopters in cities and suburbs, we're extremely limited in the places we can land, so a paramedic on the scene would have to transport a victim two or three blocks to meet the chopper." With X-Hawk, Bothwell estimates, his pilots will be able to fly at least 1000 missions a year that would otherwise be impossible due to weather or ground conditions. "I am always a hopeful kind of guy" says Bothwell, who has been in regular contact with Yoeli's design team for the past two years. "By 2010 I can see us having five or six X-Hawks in our fleet. But by then, Yoeli reckons, you may already have one in yours.

The 120 mph 40 mpg Terrafugia Transition

The 120 mph 30 mpg Terrafugia Transition

In comparison to the 2.5 million Moller Skycar, the Terrafugia Transition would be a snip at 75 600. As The Mail on Sunday reported on 11 February 2007:

Ever find yourself wishing you could just jump in the car and take off somewhere really interesting? Well soon you will be able to do just that - quite literally. Engineers have developed a car that makes an ideal runaround for town, but when you tire of the congested roads, just press abutton and your vehicle will transform into a plane with a 27' wingspan capable of 120 mph. This astonishing hybrid vehicle - called the Transition - is already on sale in America, with the first due to be delivered to the owners in two years. it is powered by a 100 horsepower engine which turns either the wheels or a rear mounted propeller and, when not in use, its wings fold in half and tuck in alongside the cockpit. The vehicle has been developed by graduates from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who have formed a company called Terrafugia - "escape from Eath" in Latin - to market it. Anna Mracek, chief operating officer, said:

"It's been in development since 1984. It is aimed at reducing door-to-door travelling time."

More than 30 of the vehicles, which run on unleaded petrol, have already been ordered. The Transition has a fuel capacity of 20 gallons and does 40 miles to the gallon on motorways - where it can reach 80 mph - or up to 30 miles to the gallon in the air. The craft weighs just over half a ton and can hold two adults and luggage. Its ideal cruising altitude is between 3 500 and 8 000 feet but it can fly at up to 12 000 feet. Motoring experts are sceptical about the car's value in Britain, not least because it needs a straight strip around a mile long to get airborne. Steve Fowler, Editor of "What Car?" said :

"It strikes me that if you have enough money to buy a Transition you could probably afford a light plane as well as a car. I can't see it taking off, so to speak."

Having written about the Moller Skycar and Terrafugia Transition, Colonel K.P. Rice ( United States Marine Corps, retired ) - a prolific American inventor who also designed the OV-10 Bronco close support aircraft - has emailed to point out that his Volante flying car is nearer to production than either of his rivals. For more details click here or on the picture above to visit his own fascinating website.

Colonel K.P. Rice's Volante flying car

Having written about the Moller Skycar and Terrafugia Transition, Colonel K.P. Rice ( United States Marine Corps, retired ) - a prolific American inventor who also designed the North American / Rockwell OV-10 Bronco close support aircraft - has emailed to point out that his Volante flying car is nearer to production than either of his rivals. For more details click here or on the picture above to visit his own fascinating website.

OV-10A 14699 of the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron, 601st TCW, USAF Sembach, West Germany, 1980

OV-10A Bronco 14699 of the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron, 601st TCW, USAF Sembach, West Germany, 1980

Yet a further update on flying cars comes from Issue 139 of First News ( www.FirstNews.co.uk ) dated 16-22 January 2009 although the "Skycar" that has "become a reality" according to the headline seems to be more of a dune buggy type sports vehicle than a practical airborne sedan:

"A flying car is no longer a dream - it now exists and has set off on its first expedition.  Gilo Cardozo created the Skycar and will co-pilot it for part of the journey with Neil Laughton.  This week the Skycar and Mr Laughton left London to travel through Europe and Africa.  The car drives on the road but has a parachute and giant fan-motor to make it fly.  The Skycar will fly over the Pyrenees and the Straits of Gibraltar.  Unfortunately, it has not been given permission to fly over the English Channel.  The Skycar takes only three minutes to go from car to aircraft and takes off at 60 km/h (37 mph ).  Once in the air, the aircraft is steered by pedals.  An emergency parachute is on board, in case something goes wrong.  Mr Cardozo's company Parajet makes the motor which will power the Skycar in the air.  If the journey goes well they plan to sell Skycars to the public for the bargain price of 50 000

An update on flying cars and roadable aeroplanes can be found at  http://www.express.co.uk/news/science-technology/398437/Meet-the-sky-drivers-how-flying-cars-could-be-just-around-the-corner

CONVENTIONAL EXPANSION

I personally believe that it would be logical to make better use of existing airport infrastructure than just building what are at best assaults on Britain’s unique landscape and at worse white elephants when the current airline "bubble" implodes in the manner of 1990s dot.com businesses. On 23 July 2002, Alastair Darling even said that he would also look at options for expanding rail travel as an alternative to domestic air travel.

However, during 2002, the British Labour Government also investigated a number of airport expansion plans to cope with increasing projected traffic – often at the cost of destroying swathes of countryside and historic buildings. From the point of view of the incoming leisure tourist, such plans would help destroy the very thing that they come to Britain to see: essentially turning Shakespeare’s "scepter’d isle" into a concrete aircraft carrier.

A Boeing 737 of CSA taxis toward the runway at Manchester Airport on 12 September 2003

A Boeing 737 of CSA taxis toward the runway at Manchester Airport on 12 September 2003

Most opposition to large scale airport expansion plans has been in the crowded South East of England, although the prospect of new airports in more remote and economically deprived areas has been given a more mixed reception.

Plans for new and expanded airports around UK in 2002 included:

A new short runway at Heathrow

Three new runways at Stansted

A new runway at either Glasgow or Edinburgh

A new runway at East MidlandsAirport

An expanded runway at Luton.

A new runway at Gatwick by 2024

A new airport at Bristol (Filton)

A new Heathrow sized 2 runway Midlands airport near Wolston between Coventry and Rugby

A new runway at Birmingham International

Brand new airports at Cliffe, Kent and in the Severn Estuary

Here is a more detailed analysis of just some of these schemes:

Heathrow

In the mid 1990s the then Conservative Government ruled out even a short third runway for European and domestic flights at Heathrow after a two year study. In 2002 a Department of Transport spokesman said "We have made clear that we want to minimise the adverse impacts of growth in aviation."

A Tarom owned Boeing 737 is pushed by a tug on the apron at Heathrow Airport

A Tarom owned Boeing 737 is pushed by a tug on the apron at Heathrow Airport

However, more than 10 000 homes could face demolition if a proposed third runway - allowing an extra 500 flights a day over London - was built just north of the present Heathrow airport. A huge increase in pollution from aircraft and road vehicles would mean the loss of far more properties than the Government admitted when it unveiled its original expansion plan in August 2002.

This plan estimated that only 260 homes would have to be knocked down to make way for a 2000 metre runway to cater for triple the number of air passengers by 2030. But 35 000 people in 10 000 homes exposed to pollution – such as nitrogen dioxide which causes lung disease and breathing problems - above EU limits might also have their homes knocked down.

Airlines and the Government are currently at odds over who should pay for such demolition and relocation of residents in an area south of the M4 and north of the A4 bounded by West Drayton, Hayes, Harmondsworth, Sipson and Harlington, yet even more properties could be blighted by noise.

Building a third runway at Heathrow would necessarily destroy a 14th century tithe barn ( one of the largest timber framed barns in Britain), an 11th century church, 8 listed buildings and 260 homes in Harmondsworth and most of the houses at the northern end of Sipston. 570 acres of greenbelt and water meadows would also be lost and a river would have to be diverted.

A new runway would also be served by a putative Terminal Six: with all the associated aprons, access roads and maintenance buildings.

One alternative to demolishing so many houses would be restrict Heathrow to aircraft conforming to very strict emissions standards – rendering thousands of current aircraft far less economically useful.

On 18 January 2003 the Daily Star also reported that the 3 000 skilled workers building the new 2.6 billion Heathrow Terminal Five would be paid 55 000 a year and that contractor Laing O’Rourke would be paying up to 32 000 a year for unskilled workers. Asylum seekers among this number would also receive vocational training and language tuition. Electricians meanwhile are being offered 75 000 a year on the project.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror of 12 March 2007 reported:

"Jets with no passengers are flying between Heathrow and Cardiff six times a week to keep an airline's takeoff slot. David Richardson,boss of B.Med, which leases the jets from BA admitted it was "not ideal" but said it was necessary to keep the valuable slot at Heathrow. Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth said "It's nuts.The Government should take immediate steps to stop the practice."

Stansted

Stansted Airport could also receive three new runways parallel to its current one. The nearby M11 corridor has also been earmarked for development with 50 000 new homes being built in the area, yet 200 existing homes, 3 000 acres of agricultural land, two ancient monuments and more than 60 listed buildings will have to be sacrificed just to build these new runways.

Built by and for the US Army Air Force in 1942, Stansted saw its first civilian charter flights in 1946. Even the 10 000 feet runway built in 1950s was mainly used for freight and until less than 25 years ago there was only one scheduled seasonal passenger flight to Jersey.

One of Britain’s longest running public enquiries ended in 1985 by approving plans to make Stansted the capital’s third airport with the capacity to take 8 million passengers a year. Major passenger growth began after installation of roads, car parks and rail link in 1986. Sir Norman Foster’s terminal building was completed in 1991.

Stansted is also currently the base of low cost airline Buzz which, Northcliffe newspapers reported on 1 February 2003, was being taken over by rival Ryanair. Buzz – a subsidiary of Dutch flag-carrier KLM - has six airliners and lost 10 million in 2002 while operating 21 routes to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain as well as two internal French services. Ryanair – which also uses Stansted as its UK base – aims to close Buzz’s unprofitable routes and operate the rest at higher frequency, lower fares and costs. The Dublin firm also has 250 new airliners on order from Boeing and, according to Chief Executive Michael O’Leary will be "bigger than BA within 5 years with 50 million passengers".

Ryanair Chairman David Bonderman might also buy part of Aer Lingus through his venture capital firm Texas Pacific.

Sunday 28 November 2004 meanwhile saw local protesters plant 100 trees on land at Broxted, Essex, earmarked for the creation of Stansted's second runway.

Cliffe

A new 11.5 billion four-runway London airport in the Thames Estuary at Cliffe in Kent could be even bigger than the current size of Heathrow and could threaten an internationally important 230-hectare bird sanctuary Cliffe Pool. Rare species found there include avocet (the RSPB symbol) water vole, emerald damselfly and recently rediscovered Maid of Kent dung beetle.

RSPB spokesman Paul Outhwaite said "More than 150 000 winter waders use the marshes. They would have nowhere else to go."

As well as causing noise pollution for thousands of residents, the rural character of the area - described by Charles Dickens in his novel "Great Expectations".- would be destroyed along with 1 100 homes and 5 000 acres of green belt. However, the fields might just as easily disappear under houses as the population of the South East also explodes – not least with people who will work at or because of the new airport.

Opponents of the Cliffe plan say the formed Ministry of Defence airport – and former Battle of Britain fighter base – at Manston in east Kent is a more logical and less sensitive option for expansion, with closer links to the Continent via the Channel Tunnel and its Ashford rail link.

Work is already underway at Manston, the UK’s fastest growing freight airport, to pave the way for passenger flights. New runway aprons and taxiways have recently been put down and flights already arrive and depart from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

Indeed, both British Airways and British Airports Authority have shown little interest in the Cliffe scheme – although two of the runways could be open as early as 2011 if work began unopposed.

Severn Estuary

A new 2 billion airport on a man made island in the Bristol Channel is one of the options in the Government’s airport expansion plans.

Building Severnside International Airport near Newport would create 19 000 permanent jobs in an area hard hit by steel and coal industry closures.

"If we get the go ahead, we could be up and running by the end of this decade" said Michael Stephen, managing director of the Severnside project.

Some years in the planning already, the airport would be financed by a mixture of private and public money. It would have a 2.5 mile long runway and aircraft would take off and approach over the sea. The airport would be directly linked to the M4 and the main line railway.

Mr Stephen added "The airport would provide a major boost for the area. Airport passenger numbers are set to soar from 160 million in 1999 to 333 million by 2015. It’s madness to try and accommodate all this growth in south east England. We would service a catchment area of nine million people. We would not be taking business away from the likes of Cardiff and Bristol airports but merely catering for the extra demand."

However, a report in the Gloucester Citizen of 15 January 2003 indicated that the Government would only consider the new estuary airport if both Bristol and Cardiff airports closed! The management of both existing airports were both dismissive of the new plans, perhaps not surprisingly as Bristol is Britain’s fastest growing airport and both airports combined handled more than five million passengers between them in 2002.

A further Citizen report on 21 January 2003 revealed that the Transport Minister David Jamieson would not speculate on plans for new airports either in the Severn Estuary or in North Bristol until the publication of a Government White Paper later in 2003. The North Bristol option would be sited at Pilning – not far from the BAe Systems airfield at Filton where Concorde was built – opposite the earlier Severn Estuary site and also close to motorway and rail links. However, Northavon MP Steve Webb warned that passengers using a North Bristol Airport would either fly north close to current (Oldbury) and former (Berkeley) nuclear power stations or south over chemical works at Avonmouth. He also pointed out that the green belt site was environmentally sensitive and surrounded by high voltage electricity lines.

Meanwhile, Philip Booth of the Gloucestershire Green Party said "We should stop building and expanding airports…and concentrate on sustainable economic development that improves quality of life and creates good jobs without adverse side effects."

STAVERTON PREVAILS

Small single engined private aircraft are a common sight at Staverton

Small single engined private aircraft are a common sight at Staverton

Here is some good news about the future of Gloucestershire Airport according to a Gloucester City Council press release of 26 September 2003.

City residents are set to profit from Staverton Airport with the news that shareholder dividends have doubled.

The airport is jointly owned by Gloucester City and Cheltenham Borough Councils. Both authorities receive a dividend based on the profits.

The airport board has today (Friday September 26) announced that the dividend due to be paid to both councils has doubled from 10,000 to 20,000. This is in addition to a rental of 14,000 paid to each council.

The news follows continued growth at the airport. A new 2 million hanger is under construction by a company on the site and an extension to an existing hanger is also under way.

New customer services staff have been recruited by the airport for the terminal which is also being extended. In the meantime planning permission has been granted for two new hangers.

This is coupled with increased aircraft movements last year - up from 79,000 to 83,000 - and a doubling of the amount of aircraft fuel which has been sold.

The board says that with the airport runway due to be resurfaced next year Staverton has a 'bright and prosperous future ahead.'

Councillor Bill Crowther, Leader of the City Council, commented: " There is a perception that the operation of airport is a drain on resources and costs us money. This excellent news for local residents shows that is not the case and that there are benefits for the city from the airport and it's
growing success."

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

On 17 December 2003 – the centenary of the Wright Brother’s first flight - the long awaited White Paper on airport development was finally published by the British Government. The main proposal contained in this was the expansion of Stansted – with a new runway being complete by 2012 – and a possible third short runway at Heathrow. This was to the displeasure of both Essex residents and British Airways alike: while Simon Heffer commented in the Daily Mail of 20 December 2003 "Would the government have been so happy to concrete over some of the prettiest parts of Essex, packed with listed buildings, to extend Stansted airport had it not been situated in one of the safest Tory seats in England?"

Transport Secretary Alastair Darling described the White paper as both pro passenger and pro environment as although in his opinion people should not be priced off planes with higher Airport Taxes the aviation industry should also meet its "green" responsibilities in terms of noise and chemical pollution.

Brand new airports at Cliffe, Kent, and in the Midlands between Rugby and Coventry have been ruled out though as has a similar installation in the Severn Estuary. In fact the White Paper concentrates on the possibilities for further developing Bristol Lulsgate Airport, which should see its runway increased as it aims to cater for 12 million passengers a year. However, G. Malham of Weston Super Mare writing in the Western Daily Press of 20 December 2003 comments:

"There is an airport in the apex of the M4 and M5 motorways with runways to accommodate transatlantic aircraft. It has hotels on its boundary, a railway line and a station, and is in close proximity to Bristol. I refer of course to Filton – the airport that should have been Bristol International. Living in Weston Super Mare I travel to Lulsgate either avoiding the many potholes in Brockley Combe or trying to crawl through the jams in Banwell. A trip up the M5 would suit me fine."

Rebuffing this argument, the White Paper says:

"The appraisal set out in the consultation document indicates that a new airport north of Bristol would…be neither economically beneficial nor commercially viable."

However, it also notes:

"Filton and Gloucester Airports play an important local role in respect of business aviation, as do Land’s End Aerodrome, Penzance Heliport, St Mary’s Airport and Tresco Heliport in respect of lifeline air services to the Isles of Scilly"

Expansion at Newquay, Bournemouth and Exeter was similarly backed, while on 16 December the media also announced a new low-cost airline starting operations at Coventry Airport on 31 March 2004. Named Thomsonfly.com it will be owned holiday firm Thomson and use staff provided by Britannia Airways. As well as creating 200 jobs, the new carrier will fly holidaymakers to Palma, Valencia, Rome, Naples, Nice, Malaga, Venice, Pisa, Ibiza, Marseilles and Jersey.

On 26 November 2003 meanwhile the Daily Mail announced details of the Airbus A380 – set to fly for the first time in Spring 2004. Costing 180 million apiece, the 239 feet long A380s will have three decks in place of the two decks currently offered by a Boeing 747 of a similar length. This will allow the new European jetliner to offer beds, shops, pubs, restaurants, casinos and even a gym in place of the traditional at-seat meal service. Major airlines should be using the A380s within three years, configured either for 800 economy seats or – as in the case of the proposed six strong Virgin Atlantic line-up for the Britain-Hong Kong- Australia route– 550 seats split between First, Business and Economy. A World fleet of 129 A380s have been pre-sold and 450 million is being spent at Heathrow Airport alone to cope with its 261 feet wingspan – 50 feet wider than a 747. Standing 79 feet tall, the A380 also looks set to generate 10 million more passengers at London’s busiest airport: just as the first jumbo jets started a volume flying revolution when they appeared in the 1970s. The first Airbus wings have been finished at Broughton in North Wales and are on their way for assembly in Toulouse.

Figures reported in the Western Daily Press of 24 January 2004 showed that Bristol Lulsgate Airport handled 3.8 million passengers in 2003 – a 13.95 % increase over 2002. Thirteen new routes were inaugurated by five new airlines to destinations such as Newquay, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Amsterdam and Berlin. Meanwhile, existing routes to Paris and Malaga saw passenger numbers rise by 63.6% and 58.5% respectively. Top scheduled domestic destinations were Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast with Dublin proving the most popular international destination. Lulsgate expects 4.5 million passengers in 2004.

The Daily Mail of 31 January 2004 meanwhile reported that Ryanair was found guilty of discrimination by Judge Crawford Lindsay QC for charging a cerebral palsy sufferer 18.00 for the use of a wheelchair to make a half mile journey from check-in to his aircraft at Stansted. Ryanair announced that it would appeal, and also levy a charge of 50p on other passengers to cover the cost of providing the service. Most other airlines absorb the cost of the service at airports that do not offer it.

At the other end of the aviation scale, Kemble Airfield based company Ultimate High appeared on ITV1’s "Daredevil" series in February 2004. The aerobatic training company – believed to be the only school in Europe for formation flying – employs current or former military fighter pilots as instructors for its single propeller monoplanes. Featured in the show was 41 year old Andy Cubin MBE , who also flies a British Mediterranean Airbus and has 500 public air shows and 7000 flying hours to his credit. His comment? "I’ve seen football hooligans crying for their mummy and 80 year olds shouting for more!" It takes all sorts!

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