Emotional final take off as airfield fades into history
THE final flights have taken off from Filton Airfield, leaving behind more than 100 years of history in their wake.
A wreath was laid on the edge of the perimeter fence by Labour councillors from South Gloucestershire Council to mark the airfield's last morning of activity on Friday.
Kingswood councillor, Bill Bowrey MBE, laid the wreath – he spent 16 years working at Airbus, and was a trade union convenor at the factory from 1994 to 1999.
"I was given the MBE for my services to the aerospace industry, but I feel that what is happening here cheapens my MBE," he said.
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"I feel we have been let down by industry leaders, by the local authorities and by the Government today – this airfield should never have been decommissioned.
"There are 800 defence and aerospace related companies in the South West, and Filton has always been the jewel in the crown of the aerospace industry for the entire region.
"I can't help but think that the closure of the airfield will eventually lead to the big players in the industry gradually moving jobs to other plants across Europe, and that would be a disaster not just for those people working for companies such as Airbus, BAE Systems and Rolls Royce – but also for those hundreds of smaller companies that contract work for them."
He added: "To close this airfield down, to cast it and more than a century of heritage aside to make way for housing and business parks, makes absolutely no sense.
"It strikes me as being terribly short-sighted. Each airfield that is lost damages the country's aerospace infrastructure at a time when we should be expanding rather than contracting. To build a new runway like this would cost millions."
Scores of aviation enthusiasts gathered to photograph the final flights at the airfield, which had been the spiritual home of everything from the Brabazon to Concorde.
Roger Mazey, 66, from Filton, who has been plane spotting here since 1953, also worked as an engineer for Airbus for 30 years.
"It is a very sad and emotional day," he said. "I have a lot of memories of this airfield. I wanted to be here today to see the last flights. It's a moment of history. After this, it's gone forever."
Keith Dyer, 60, from Weston-super-Mare, has travelled the world as an aviation enthusiast – spotting planes everywhere from Australia to the United States.
But for Mr Dyer, there is nowhere quite like Filton.
"It's such an historic place," he said. "My passion for aircraft was sparked here, when I came to an air show in 1968. Then I was here to witness the first flight of Concorde in 1969. That was a very special moment.
"To think that after today there will never be another plane taking off from Filton is something that makes me feel very sad indeed. It's such a waste, but it's the way that so many airfields have gone all around the country."
But it wasn't just older men watching the final flights with dampening eyes.
For 13-year-old plane spotter William Jones, it's also an emotional occasion.
William has been an avid plane spotter for the past three years, and travels to Filton from his home in Chepstow once a month to spend the day watching aircraft arrive and depart.
"It's 101 years of history coming to an end, and I think that's actually quite sad," he said. "I enjoy coming here to watch the planes and photograph them – watching the planes coming in and out of Filton has even inspired me to try to become a pilot when I grow up. But this will be my last visit to watch planes here."
Last week The Post revealed that the airfield had been sold to a high-profile property developer in a deal believed to be worth £120 million.
BAE Systems, the owners of the 350-acre site, confirmed a deal had been signed to sell the historic site to property firm Bridgehouse Capital Limited for redevelopment.
Plans are also in the pipeline to convert a series of grade two listed First World War hangars on the site into an aviation museum, celebrating the airfield's century of heritage – with a new hangar being constructed to showcase Filton's most famous creation, Concorde.
But as the final plane taxied towards the runway on Friday – a small private jet, it was clear that a long and proud era was coming to a close for Filton.
After taking off into the low winter sun, the pilot turned the jet and gave the grand old airfield one final salute – a low altitude fly-past, with a respectful tilt of the wings, before banking back around and disappearing into the now silent skies.