Speakers' Corner: Filton Airfield, Patrick Francey, former assistant air traffic controller
SO, FILTON airfield has now been closed and the reason given for its closure is that it was not viable. This is a story of missed opportunity after missed opportunity over a period of something like 40 years.
The airfield was killed off slowly and methodically by a management structure that seemed to resent the fact that they needed a runway to get their own products into the sky.
Filton was never allowed to be financially viable. I would like to find out who stood to gain from its closure?
When I was employed at Filton as an assistant air traffic controller in the early 1970s a report was commissioned to compare the operational advantages of Filton and Lulsgate for the development of a commercial airport.
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I did not actually read the report myself but there was a lot of discussion between the staff in the tower and the Senior Air Traffic Controller (Roy Julian – now deceased).
He was of the opinion that there was a considerable amount of bias in the report in favour of Lulsgate that he could have taken apart.
As this report created an air of uncertainty over the future of Filton and not wishing to rock the boat but go along with the management nothing was done to champion the superior facilities at the airfield.
Lulsgate (now Bristol) was taken forward and developed.
It is interesting to note that Filton had on numerous occasions to use its own surveillance radar to position aircraft onto the Lulsgate approach path during poor weather.
At the time there was a long drawn out affair over whether Maplin Sands on the east coast was suitable for a new London airport.
After many years and a vast amount of money the proposal was knocked on the head.
But staff in Filton tower wondered why on earth there was a need for people to travel further east to catch a plane when the majority of flights travelled westward.
During Concorde development, the tower received internal information concerning the cost of development and projected sales figures.
It was obvious to me that the cost of the aircraft was such that few airlines would be able to purchase them let alone fund the cost of spare engines, parts, pilot training and all the other necessary bits and pieces.
In discussions in the tower I indicated that maybe BAC should not try to sell Concorde but lease them out.
By leasing the aircraft out they would receive continuous improvement from the engineers who built them.
If an aircraft needed attention where better to fix it than where it was made. If there was a problem abroad, a spare Concorde could be flown out very quickly. If an engine needed to be replaced abroad a slow flight home empty was not going to be a major challenge.
I made a suggestion that Filton should do what Mashalls of Cambridge did and modify and overhaul civil and military aircraft.
"We are not here to service and repair other people's garbage Mr Francey I was told. We are here to promote Bristol made products!"
In later years – I believe Filton ended up servicing and repairing other people's garbage!
But Filton had one of the strongest runways in the country. It was twice as wide as Heathrow. It was on the junction of two major motorways. It was within one and a half miles of Bristol Parkway Station. It had a railway line connecting Avonmouth and Filton Junction at airfield level.
It had one of the world's leading aircraft manufacturing facilities on site. It had one of the world's top aero-engine testing facilities on site, a good surveillance radar system, precision approach capability and although the runway was some 4,000 feet short of Heathrow, a 1,000 foot extension to the west and 3,000 feet to the east end or any combination of the two would have proved very effective.
The slow, creeping development of houses to the east and the maze of industrial units, shops and department stores to the west at Cribbs Causeway eventually were allowed to strangle the airfield.
I understand that EADS had no further use for Filton and so it has finally been left to bleed to death.
I think that if ever there is a post-mortem over Filton a finger can be pointed at those at the top of the hill who failed to grasp the potential.
How long will it be before there is no evidence that an airfield ever existed at Filton – except of course for one landlocked Concorde.
And will we see Toulouse closed down in the future and turned into a housing site?
Will Boeing decide to close its airfield in Seattle and turn it into a cabbage plot? I think not.