Hello and welcome to my blog. This week's virtual tour is ofa much loved local landmark, Brighton City Airport, or Shoreham Airport as it’s known by us locals.
Brighton City Airport occupies 214 acres of land on the west side of the River Adur and is sandwiched between the A27 and A259. It is the second busiest licensed general aviation airport in the United Kingdom and was recently in the headlines following the tragic air accident at the RAFA Airshow on 22nd August 2015. It's owned by ADR Candelon Limited and as mentioned in a previous post, the airport’s airside activities are managed by Brighton City Airport Limited. For the last few years, the airport has operated at a profit and its main income streams include fuel and landing fees.
This summer, Paul Smith, Brighton City Airport Limited’s Ground Operations Manager and Senior Airport Fire Officer, took me on a tour for lifeon-shorehambeach.
“I began working at the airport in 2000 as a firefighter. Prior to and while working at the Aerodrome, I was a retained firefighter in the local authority fire service (1985-2010) and was the Station Manager at Henfield. Plus I’d been an Engineer and Mechanic for various companies.
I’m one of those guys who gets into everything, so when I started at the airport I steadily got more and more involved. I became the Senior Airport Fire Officer (SAFO), and within a short time also the Ground Operations Manager. I now manage a team of 12 men and am one of the four responsible for managing the airport.
My main role is to make sure that the fuel, fire, aerodrome operation and operational area is Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), compliant and meets the required regulations. I have paperwork coming out of my ears, but I’m a procedure monster so I thrive on it. I work all over the airport but my desk is in the terminal building.
The Aerodrome is an old civil and military airport, so we’ve got a typical layout of three runways in a triangular format. It’s a tried and tested arrangement that means that pilots can fly into wind regardless of its direction. We operate a simple one-way system for the aircraft so the Controllers can make full use of the runways while planes queue up to take off. On peak days, we are very, very busy. In fact, for periods of the year, we are busier than lots of the larger regional airports. When it’s particularly lively, we’ll have two controllers and an assistant controller on duty in the VCR (visual control room).
We always have to ask permission to visit the control tower because we’ll get in their way if they’re fully occupied.
Martin, one of the air traffic controllers at Brighton City Airport
Everything you can see over Martin’s shoulder falls under the jurisdiction of the air traffic controllers.
Theirs is an intense job because they have to ensure that everything is safe so their eyes and ears are everywhere. The CAA regulate their hours, so after 2.5 hours they have to handover to another controller, take a break and chill out.
The CAA govern everything we do from how emergencies should be dealt with to the length of the grass, so we have a checklist on what has to be done in a given situation and for every occurrence. It’s all very regimented. Controllers go on annual training sessions for Routine Occurrences and Emergencies and the Unit Training Officer will regularly turn up unannounced, give them 10 seconds to read a scenario and observe how they respond.
When an emergency is declared, the controller will hit a big red button on his console and the alarms and bells will go off around the Aerodrome to alert the fire crew. The airport fire crew will call up, having responded to the alarms within 15-20 seconds, to find out what type of emergency it is. They will report to strategic locations pre designated as part of the emergency plan and be in the correct response position should anything happen. The large majority of their call outs are precautionary, it’s just an assurance for the Aerodrome users and the pilot.
When the fire crew are on a job there will be no or limited fire cover available to other aircraft. Under these circumstances, the controller will advise the pilots accordingly and they have to decide if they wish to divert to another airfield. The bigger aircraft cannot land without fire cover so they have no choice but to divert.
A variety of aircraft types operate in to and out of the Aerodrome and some of our resident aircraft are kept in the airport’s maintenance hanger.
Maintenance hanger at Brighton City Airport.
My team of eight firefighters, two maintenance men and three security guards, come into their own in this hanger, the adjacent fire station and on the Aerodrome.
The firefighters’ primary role is to deal with the airport’s accidents and incidents and the three security guards with airside security, but we all pitch in to help with the maintenance. We re-line runways, make marker and information boards in our workshop, cut the 214 acres of grass, re-lay concrete, re-fuel aircraft and repair and replace the runway and taxiway lights. We scare off bird or wildlife that could endanger aircraft and collect the landing fees. Every job is covered by a procedure and everyone’s additional responsibilities are laid out, written down, signaturised and checked. We’re always busy but when the gong goes, it’s “Squadron scramble!” and the firefighters drop everything and sprint off to man the fire trucks.
Pete and Darren from Brighton City Airport’s fire team
They have three minutes from the time they hear the alarm to get to the fire and start applying media, (water or foam). Two of them will go in the first truck and a third and (when available) a fourth, will proceed if needed. When they arrive, they take control of the incident because they are expert in dealing with aviation related accidents. When the local authority fire service turn up, they will either allow our firefighters to retain control or take over if it’s a serious fire. If it’s a small incident, we’ll remain in charge and deal with it fully as we are qualified aviation firefighters.
Without our fire service, the airport would not have an Aerodrome licence and without an Aerodrome licence, its future as a viable commercial airport would be in serious jeopardy.
The airport fire service has two fire trucks and two Watches, Red and Blue. The trucks are much smaller than the standard fire engine you see on the streets and only carry equipment necessary to deal with a fire on a private jet, like a Cessna Citation. The fire trucks have specialist foam monitors on the front and can start producing media as soon as the engine starts. This means that the firefighters can apply water or foam the moment they get near the fire, even if they are travelling at 70 mph. Unless they are trying to save life, they can tackle the fire from inside the cab so they don’t have to put themselves at risk from heat, fire or fumes.
Some people think that Brighton City Airport fire service is part of West Sussex fire service. It’s not. Although our firefighters are either former RAF or part-time local authority firefighters and our training is similar, the airport fire service is owned and operated by Brighton City Airport Limited. It complies with CAA procedures not that of the local authority. We do though obviously have a great working relationship with the local authority blue light services.
We have other vehicles to fulfil our remaining functions and one of these is the checker.
Brighton City Airport’s checker
We use the checker to monitor the airfield. The moment we set foot in it we fall under the authority of the air traffic controllers and have to tell them exactly where we want to go, what we want to do and why we’re doing it. We can only drive off when we have their permission. When we’re on the move, we have to do precisely what they tell us because it’s a busy place and aircraft always have priority.
No one is allowed airside without prior consent, so if someone is spotted wandering around, one of us will jump into the truck, bring them in, find out what they were doing, under whose authority, and ask other pertinent questions. Then they get a ticking off. We are in a position of authority but we always try to remain friendly but that’s a very difficult balance to strike at times.
Birds are generally more of a problem than intruders because of the danger of bird strikes, so the checker is equipped with a state of the art bird scarer which we’ll use to deter them from getting too close to the runways.
There is a Runway and Safety Area at the end of each of the three runways. It’s an over-run area that an aircraft can use to come to a stop and turn around if something goes wrong during the take-off or landing. The ground there needs to be quite firm so we’ll keep these areas clear, graded and stabilized.
Our fire training ground is near the gunnery. There’s an old aircraft fuselage there and with my SAFO hat on, I’ll test our procedures by setting a small fire in it without warning and tell the guys that there’s been a plane crash. Exercises like this supplement their annual hot fire and breathing apparatus training at Southampton Airport and is great at keeping them and ATC on their toes.
Brighton City Airport terminal building
I work long hours but I absolutely love working at the airport. There are about 70 staff within our group of companies including FTA-Global, Brighton City Airport Limited and Apollo Aviation Maintenance and it’s like a little township. The place gets into your bones and people tend to stay on until they retire. Yes, the operators can fall out with each other and us, but we all love the aircraft and the environment in which we work. We feel very protective towards it so if anyone wants to change it, they’ll have to get through us first.”
The tour took place before the 22nd August and I would like to dedicate this blog to Red Watch and all the staff at Brighton City Airport Limited. My thanks go to Paul Smith, in particular, for taking me on a fascinating tour and treating me to a cup of tea and a cake.
Thanks for dropping by and in a fortnight’s time I’ll be back with a virtual tour of Shoreham’s RNLI Station.