Blog: Caernarfon Airfield

By Bram du Saar

Last month I made a short trip to Wales in the United Kingdom. On a drive through the magnificent landscape surrounding the historic town of Caernarfon, I passed a small sign indicating an airfield. And although I’m definitely not into aircraft spotting (sorry Roger, but I really like your photos), driving past such signs, makes me automatically wanting to turnaround and follow it. It’s just like the feeling of a treasure hunt! You know there’s something, but what, how big and how stunning is still a mystery!

So, after a short drive from the A499, to the shore of Caernarfon Bay, I reached the silver! I found Caernarfon airfield just 7miles south – west from the town centre of Caernarfon. A privately owned, operated and managed airfield, by Mr R Steptoe, managing director of Caernarfon Airworld Ltd., which is a part of the Atlantic Group.

History
As with many other airfields I visited in Wales and the UK, the airfield is in its third life. During World War II, in 1941, when a German invasion into England seemed only a matter of time, the War Ministry decided to build new airfields for Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter squadrons along the west coast of Wales. This way the squadrons would be out of immediate reach of the Germans. Caernarfon was one of those airfields, formerly called RAF Llandwrog. Strangely enough, fighter aircraft were never based at the airfield. Instead, the RAF developed it as a centre for flight training.
In 1946 the airfield was decommissioned and fell into disuse. In 1969 the airfield was re-opened for the installation of Prince Charles, as the Prince of Wales, at Caernarfon castle. But this revival was short lived.

In the early 1980’s the airport re-opened again, but now primarily for civilian traffic. Over the last 20 years, the airfield has been operated by a range of private companies and individuals with private and pleasure flying being the main activity. In 2002, Caernarfon Airworld Ltd. purchased the airfield from Air Caernarfon Ltd.

Airside

I noticed that, from the original RAF triangular runway configuration, two runways are still operational. According to NATS, the main runway 02/20 has a north – south configuration and is 1,080m in length by 23m in width. So, the runway could in theory accommodate a 50 ‘seater’, like an ATR 42 or a Fokker 50. However, I suspect the surrounding infrastructure (taxiways, apron and especially the terminal) isn’t up to the task. An operation for smaller aircraft is more likely. Also, because there are just basic navigational aids at the airfield. The runway does have a NDB (CAE at 320 kHz) but no DME or runway lighting. Therefore, the airfield operates under visual flight rules (VFR) and daylight hours.
The second runway (08/26) is situated more or less west – east and is a bit shorter (938m). The remains of the third runway are still there.

Facilities
There is one hangar at the airport. Maintenance activities are also housed within this building, as is the Air Ambulance Helicopter from the “Ambiwlans Awyr Cymru”. Refueling facilities are also available at the airfield.

Very noticeably, the terminal building dates back to the war. As I said earlier, it will be relatively difficult to commence scheduled operations at the airport due to the small terminal and its configuration. However, the terminal does contain a cafe and restaurant, with a viewing area located outside. The building also houses air traffic and airport offices.
Alas, everything was closed when I arrived. So, I can’t give you a detailed report on activities at the Air Park, as it’s now called. But according to the signs at the airfield, it has something for everyone: facilities for visiting pilot’s, spacious car parks, a pleasant flying club, a nice restaurant, a beach next door, aircraft maintenance facilities; numerous aircraft for hire and all-round flight training centre.

At the entrance of the Air Park a small museum is situated. The museum portrays the history of aviation in North Wales. There, although from the outside, I learned that the airfield played a vital role in the development of RAF Mountain Rescue and air-sea rescue units. By looking through the windows I got a glimpse of the various aircraft on display; like a Javelin FAW7, a Vampire T.11, a Westland Whirlwind helicopter and a Sea Hawk. Activities on the airfield and the magnificent Hunter T7 can be viewed from the museum’s restaurant.

Future plans
Caernarfon airfield management has, according to a report on a “Air Transport Strategy for Wales” by the Welsh Assembly Government (December 2003), developed a medium term plan for the airfield. This includes infrastructure upgrades and route development.

Infrastructure upgrades focus on developing the terminal. The plans include an extension to the west of the current building and will replace the existing wooden restaurant building. When operational, the existing terminal building is scheduled to be re-configured and updated. In 2003 the plan foresaw completion within 2 years.

Their purpose of this development is to accommodate an intra Air Services for Wales; for example twice a day to Cardiff. The plan and route have the support of the local council, who according to the Welsh report, are prepared to pre-book around 4 seats on each flight for the first 6 months.

A nice experience
So, if you’re in the northeast of Wales, the weather isn’t suitable for climbing Snowdon, you’ve seen the Caernarfon castle (tip: take the guided tour) and like to take drive though the countryside, a visit to the Caernarfon Air Park is a nice treat! I found to be a no-frills, very serene and authentic (local) airfield. But be sure to visit the airport between 08:00-18:00 in the summer and 09:00-16:30 in the winter.

Literature:
– Welsh Assembly Government (2003), Development of an Air Transport Strategy for Wales, Cardiff
Photos:
– A.J. du Saar
Drawing:
– Welsh Assembly Government (2003), Development of an Air Transport Strategy for Wales, Cardiff

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