Aerlines from Past to Present

“Sharing International Air Transportation Research: The Short Haul Between Academics, Students and Professionals”

By Hubert Croes, Bram du Saar & Willem-Jan Zondag

To celebrate the 50th Issue of Aerlines Magazine, the editorial team has decided to give you a glimpse behind the scene of the development of Aerlines since its foundation in 1994. This article consists of three elements, sketching our scene behind the screen. One about the history, the second about our missions and goals and the third is about three small interviews with people important to Aerlines.

Download article here

Blog: Finding (on) Ashaig Airstrip

By Bram du Saar

I get to visit airports and airfields on my travels by coincidence most of the time – except of course when I’m flying! They might be marked on the map I got at the petrol station, or they are marked on road signs. However, some are not on any map or noticeable road sign at all. And since they are so small or are just a strip of concrete, you only stumble upon them when you are actually driving on the landing strip or because locals tell you about them.

The latter was the case in the Highlands of Scotland this summer when I visited the town Kyle of Lochalsh, which is nowadays a quiet town and “gateway” to the popular Isle of Skye (one of the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland). But it is also the terminus of Britain’s most scenic railway journey: “The Kyle of Lochalsh extension”. It runs along the rugged Scottish coast, between Stromeferry and Kyle of Lochalsh.

After a visit to the small Kyle of Lochalsh Railway Museum (1 pound entrance fee), I asked around for local information on the Isle of Skye (An t-Eilean Sgitheanach in Gaelic). The Lonely Planet is not that lonely anymore! I then heard about a very small private airstrip on Skye – the only airfield on Skye for that matter! The locals emphasized the miniature scale to such an extent, that I first thought I was directed to a field for model aircraft. One local put it this way “It is not much, but there is enough runway to crash on!”

Finding Ashaig

Hearing about it was one thing, but actually getting there was another. To cut a very long story short: after a lot of wrong turns, several dirt roads, obstructing golf-course-like pastures, a lot of asking around and getting conflicting information on any road sign, I finally found it. So, if you are planning to visit Skye and you might want to see this airstrip for yourself, here are some clear directions(!): Cross the Skye Bridge, keep on the A87, shortly after passing the turn-off for Kylerhea, drive a bit slower till you see a red square sign on your right-hand side that states: “Skye Bridge Ashaig Airstrip” and make a right. You cannot miss it!

Management
The Airstrip is operated and managed by the Highland Council or “Chomhairle na Gàidhealtachd” as it is called in Gaelic. The Council covers the largest land area of all Scottish local authorities (26,484 sq km in total), which comprises 33 percent of Scotland or 11 percent of Great Britain. This stretched landscape and the islands of the Inner Hebrides pose unique logistical challenges to the Council in delivering public services across the Highlands. By operating the Airstrip it is possible to keep accessibility and “lifeline” services up and running for the approximately 10,000 residents of Skye and for the multitude of tourists (around 600,000 per year).

History

As ordered by the former Inverness County Council, the airstrip was constructed between 1969 and 1971 by the Corps of Royal Engineers of the British Army. The strip was opened on April 14th 1972. A plaque near the gate of the airstrip commemorates this occasion.

Also in 1972, Loganair commenced scheduled flights to and from Glasgow and Inverness. Since the airline’s foundation in 1968, Loganair built a network serving the Highlands and all the Islands. The service from Ashaig operated four or five days a week and reached its height in the late 1970s, when construction in the oil industry was at its peak.

As a British Airways franchise partner, Loganair still maintains the Highlands network. But in early 1988, Loganair terminated the scheduled flights due to lack of demand and due to the withdrawal of subsidies (76,000 pounds annually) from the then Scottish Development Department, amid great protest from the local authorities in Portree and Inverness concerned for a drop in tourist trade.

In 1979, the opening scenes of the film Flash Gordon (1980) were filmed at the airstrip. The film was intended as an update of the 1930’s comic strip. The somewhat ‘imaginative’ plot tells the story of a football player and his friends traveling to the planet Mongo and finding themselves fighting the tyrant, Ming the Merciless, to save Earth.

Present
At present, the airfield is an unlicensed airstrip. So, you cannot find Ashaig in NATS’s (British National Air Traffic Services) Aeronautical Information Service directory. It is primarily used by small private aircraft visiting Skye, and by the two helicopters of the Scottish Ambulance Service for medical flights to Inverness. The runway is situated east-west (25/07) and is 711 meters long. The overall condition of the runway leaves to be desired, but it is “usable” according to a local aviator. However, there is currently no maintenance service on a regular basis.

Also, it lacks air traffic control or guidance, so visual flight rules apply. There are landing lights, but due to technical and maintenance problems the system failed several times at the end of 2005 and early 2006. This led to a public debate (read: political outcry) on the way the airport is maintained, as the landing lights are vital for reliable air ambulance services to operate 24/7.

There is a portable cabin at the site, which serves as a small airside HQ. There is no hangar available for visiting aircraft, nor are there any repairing facilities. Therefore, it is recommended to use the available concrete boulders to secure aircraft, as the Highlands are famous for the ‘4 seasons in one day’ weather. The required rescue equipment, primarily for helicopter operations, is stored in containerlike “boxes” next to the parking apron.

Once a year, in the summer, the airport is officially closed for all air traffic, because the airside then serves as an arena for the Isle of Skye Music Festival. The festival has been growing in recent years, hosting more and more artists and visitors. Parts of the runway are used for stages and for parking, and there is a campsite on the green.

Future plans
The growing numbers of tourists, the developing Skye economy and the airstrip’s present state have given the region much food for thought and has ignited a debate on a possible expansion of the airstrip or even constructing an entirely new airport.
West Highland Air Transport (WHAT) has recently (2002) put forward a proposal to establish air services between Ashaig and Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and London (Luton). WHAT proposes to use 50-seat Dash-7 planes with up to 5 flights per day in total. Recent studies have shown that this is a bit overoptimistic, but a more limited daily service to central Scotland seems to be realistic and feasible.

Expansion is recommended from the emergency service’s point of view as well. As the old Britten-Norman Islander is out of service, the Air Ambulance has no suitable fixed-wing aircraft that can safely land at Ashaig. In case the Air Ambulance helicopters are not available in an emergency, the Service needs to call in a military helicopter. Any expansion or upgrading should therefore enable the airstrip to accommodate at least the new Beechcraft KingAir.

The reintroduction of scheduled flights from Skye is also supported by the Highland and Islands Transport Partnership (HI-TRANS), which is a statutory body that represents several Scottish Councils who have joined forces to pursue improvements to transport services and infrastructure in the Highlands and Islands. Their investment proposals for an improved air service network in the Highlands and Islands include improvements to the Skye airstrip to facilitate the introduction of two daily return flights from Skye to central Scotland.

Future, but…
Now, you might wonder: With that kind of support, why is he still talking in ‘future tense’? First of all, because almost any new service would require better facilities than those presently offered

(a terminal building for example!), as well as the upgrading of the runway and a considerable extension of it. All these plans can in theory be executed with (available) money, but a land purchase of 50 acres (about 20 hectares) is necessary for the extension to actually materialise. Alas, negotiations between the landowner (Sir Iain Noble) and the London-based investors are lengthy. Apart from arguments about the funds concerned – half a million pounds -, Sir Iain Noble questions the plan’s economic prospects and has doubts about the impact of an extension on the ‘neighbours’. An environmental assessment in 2004 concluded that the expansion would have no significant economic impact while a small number of properties would suffer increased noise levels.

Secondly: The Highland Council is divided on the Ashaig plans. Two Highland councilors from the north of Skye have suggested building a brand new airport near the town of Kensaleyre. An airport at this location would lie more centrally within the Skye region and also answer the need of the north. It would lie closer to Portree, the largest town and economic centre of the Island. Portree is now a 45-minute drive away. A big downside to this proposal is that an airport that would lie a bit more to the north would be of less interest to the Lochalsh and other surrounding mainland communities. So this would reduce the already small catchment area even further.

Thirdly: The lack of sufficient and integrated infrastructure! Only one major road runs on The Isle of Skye: the A87 which is a two-way road for 80-90 percent. A bigger airport, regardless of the location, would therefore very easily lead to more congestion on this road and on the surrounding local infrastructure.

And ‘fourth’ but not least: According to a report of the Scottish Natural Heritage, the Airstrip is situated in a geological area of national importance. Ashaig Airstrip lies parallel to it for roughly 800 metres. The report concludes that housing and the redevelopment of the airstrip in the vicinity of the coast have the potential of damaging the scientific value of the site. Housing and re-development of the airstrip should therefore not be allowed wihtin a 5-mile radius of the heritage site. However, if these recommendations are to be followed, it means that the airstrip can only expand when whole new property is purchased. And that is not very realistic from both a political and an economic point of view, as mentioned above.

Other means available

Whether Ashaig airstrip expands or is replaced still remains to be seen. Many reports state that the proposed expansion and WHAT’s plans to re-establish flights between Skye, the Central Belt and England, can have a profound impact on the local community. But is the local community strong enough to finally carry the burden of the road getting there? Time will tell! And speaking of time: perhaps, in light of the earlier, it is not that bad that you still travel by steam trains and historic diesel engines (Class 37) to Kyle of Lochalsh (please visit:http://www.kylerailway.co.uk for more information). And on top of that, there are 3 or 4 daily services (depending the season) with modern First Scotrail trains (Sprinter stock), as part of the ‘hub-and-spoke’ system from Inverness.

Literature:
– Breakish Community Steering Group (2005), Breakish Feasibility Study: Community Consultation and Evaluation of Development Options
– HITRANS (2003), An Expanded Air Services Network For the Highlands and Islands
– Scottish Natural Heritage (2000), The Coastline between Ardnish and Ob Lusa, near Broadford (SNH Ref No: 1251)
– Several articles from the West Highland Free Press newspaper
– Several minutes of proceedings from The Highland Council, http://www.highland.gov.uk andhttp://195.173.143.171/
– http://www.firstgroup.com/scotrail/

Photos:
– A.J. du Saar
– Photo Class 37 diesel engine at Kyle of Lochals: http://www.class37.freeserve.co.uk

Blog: A cool visit to the Lofoten Islands

By Bram du Saar

It’s summer in mainland Europe, and during this heat wave typical things happen. Office buildings empty completely before three o’clock in the afternoon. With red skies at morning, according to Matthew 16:2, sailors start taking that as a warning. And I … I begin longing for a cooler area. Like above the artic circle, and the Lofoten Islands in the north of Norway in particular. I visited these Islands several moons ago, and enjoyed a wonderful temperature.

Lofoten Islands

The Lofoten Islands stretch out into the sea like a wall of granite to the south-west. It gives you the impression that they to hold the deepwater Vestfjord in place at Norway’s mainland coast. The Lofoten Island themselves consists of lofty mountains, sheltered coves, long stretches of seashore, large areas of virgin countryside, small picturesque harbor towns and magnificent views.
The town of Svolvaer is the regional centre of administration. It has about 4,120 inhabitants. Beside many attractions like the Ice Bar, a pub situated in a big refrigerator where the bar is made of ice as are the glasses and sculptors, the city also facilitates Svolvaer Airport, Helle (ENSH/SVJ).

The Airports environment

Helle is one of six airports on the Lofoten Islands. Other airports are Rost, Vaeroy (a heliport), Leknes, Stokmarknes and Andoya.
Helle Airport is situated 4km to the north-east of Svolvaer, at the edge of Storskjeringen bay. Because the runway has a north-south configuration (01/19), no air traffic to and from the airport passes over the urban areas of the town. The Norwegians, environment-minded as they are, have even publicized the noise contours of 2005 of the airport on the internet athttp://webhotel.gisline.no/Avinor/Avinor.aspx?airport=ENSH&service=stoy (Press “Oppdater Kart” at the top of the screen), to underline this fact.

Avinor
Svolvaer Airport, Helle is owned and operated by Avinor, a state owned limited company. It was established on 1 January 2003 following its conversion from a government corporation, the Norwegian Air Traffic and Airport Management. The Norwegian Ministry of Transport and Communications is Avinor’s owner, and the Minister of Transport and Communications is the company’s general assembly. Avinor

owns and operates 45 other airports in Norway, including Oslo’s International Airport Gardermoen, which is a fully owned subsidiary. Avinor is also the Air Navigation Service provider in Norway, responsible for Air Traffic Control Services, including control centres, control towers and Communication Navigation and Surveillance.
Avinor is financed by its users. Around two-thirds of Avinor’s revenues come from the sales of services to airlines, while one-third are attributable to commercial activity at the airports. The Norwegian state purchases services from Avinor at Norway’s regional airports (NOK 35 million in 2005). Avinor’s headquarters, corporate staff and divisional management are situated in Oslo.

Airport facilities
Helle is in many ways a small airport. The asphalt runway is only 857meters long and a regular 30meters wide. This includes the turning pads on either side of the runway. There are no taxiways, only a (parking) apron in front of the terminal building at the north side of the airport.

The control tower is situated near the middle of the runway. The wooden-build terminal is small and, therefore “very” easy to navigate. However, comfort leaves to be desired. Somewhat worn-out and presumably IKEA chairs dominate the waiting area (Amrita … you would really love this place!). There are two check-in desks and a baggage scanner. Both are primarily in use for Wideroe, the airports main visiting commercial carrier (see below). More to the back of the terminal, there are some little offices; one is for Wideroe’s station manager. The typical airport restaurant, bank-, post- and tourist office are located in Svolvaer.
The airport’s service hours are on weekdays from 05.15am to 10.00pm, but air traffic service is provided from 03.45am to 08.20pm. The airport has fuelling and de-icing facilities, but no other sorts of handling. There is no hanger space available for visiting aircraft and also no repair facilities. Snow removal equipment is available and the rescue equipment for fire fighting is certified for CAT 4.

Flying into Svolvaer
Helle can receive VFR and IFR flights, but flying into the airport is no Sunday ride. Special requirements are in place for operators performing commercial transportation. The airports manuals states that the operator “shall stipulate special crew qualification requirements” and landing and departing aircraft have to meet Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) requirements, because of the short runway.

Operators without steep approach approval must notify the airport as to how the flight crew shall use the visual aids, being the visual approach guidance system and runway markings.
Due to insufficient back-up power on runway edge, Helle will be closed when visibility is less than 600meters during day time or 400meter at night. And in weather conditions where holding position markings are no longer visible, or have reduced effect there will only be allowed one movement on the maneuvering area at a time.
Because of the mountains surrounding the airport wind shear is an issue to reckon with. Wind shear/eddies (red.: two winds moving in opposite directions ‘rub’ or mix together) may occur on short final to runway 19 when the geostrophical wind (SW-NW) is above 25 knots.

Closing down?
Because of these limitations, the airport has been under thread of closure. End 2001 the Norwegian Air Traffic and Airport Management Authority has said that the problem at the Svolvaer airport is the environment. Svolvaer reportedly has enough passengers but it is not possible to change the physical limitations. The airport operates well enough at the moment, but if higher demands on safety are introduced, there are several problems, reported Lofotsposten, a regional Norwegian newspaper. The runway is shorter than optimal, there are restricted development options and there are also operational limitations.
Luckily, a month later the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority decided not to close the Svolvaer airport, even though the safety zone on the runway is rather short. The airport was re-approved.

Wideroe
As said earlier, Wideroe is the main visiting

commercial carrier. Wideroe’s Flyveselskap ASA, as it’s called officially, is the largest regional airline in the Nordic countries, carrying more than 1.5 million passengers per year. The airline operates 30 Dash 8 aircraft (series 100, Q300 and Q400 [red.: the ‘Q’ stands for Quite]) to 42 destinations in Norway and 7 destinations abroad (ranging from Stockholm to Aberdeen). The company has over 1300 employees.
The public service obligation services (PSO) on the STOL network account for approximately half of Wideroe’s operations. Also Svolvaer is a PSO destination. From Svolvaer the airline operates daily flights to Leknes on the Lofoten Islands and Bodo on Norway’s mainland, being a flight of respectively 20 and 30 minutes. So, no complementary hot breakfasts, lunches or diners are served, only cold drinks!

I found a visit to the Lofoten Islands a great experience. Especially in summertime when the climate is relatively cool, there’s a fresh sea breeze and the sun shines for more than 21 hours per day. So, there’s no hurry to see the things you want to see on the Islands (and believe me, your eyes won’t complain for 1 sec.). Therefore, a quick visit to one of the airports literarily won’t take up much time and can be a nice change of scenic landscape. And with regard to the weather I’m longing for: as John Ruskin (an English writer and critic of art, architecture, and society, 1819-1900) once said: “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, so there only different kinds of good weather.”

Literature:
http://www.avinor.no
Photos:
– A.J. du Saar and Wideroe (aircraft photo)
Spelling:
– Due to limitations and/or uniformity of the used character set, it was not possible to use all characters in the Norwegian language.

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

Lila Design, looks into the sky

by Bram du Saar and Roger Cannegieter

When the new-entrant Belgian airline, VG Airlines, unveiled its corporate brand we (the authors) discovered that it was designed by a Dutch graphic designer. This fascinated us and we decided to find out more about the business of designing airline corporate brands. We contacted the designer of VG Airlines’ brand, Mr. Norbert Lambriex for an interview and visited him to discuss aircraft graphic designing and the history of his company. Even as it appears that all-white liveries are the new trend in today’s corporate identities for many airlines, Mr. Norbert Lambriex of Lila Design Aviation has other views.

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