November 17, 2010

Newcastle airport resolves wind farm radar threat

by Rob Pattinson, The Journal, 17 November 2010

Airport bosses will today unveil a new policy making way for more wind farms in the region.

Newcastle International Airport is set to announce it has invested in new technology which will allow for growth in the number of wind turbine sites in the North East.

A meeting of key stakeholders from the world of aviation and renewable energy industries will be told a modification to radar displays will essentially block-out a number of new wind farms on air traffic control screens.

The breakthrough represents the end of a six-year stand-off when the airport was unable to sanction any new large-scale wind farms for safety reasons.

The moving blades of wind turbines show up on radar screens, with the potential to compromise passenger safety – a situation the airport refused to allow.

Now it is expected plans, which had previously struggled to satisfy the airport they would not interfere with plane safety, could get the go-ahead.

The new solution comes after three years of research. While it represents a huge breakthrough for supporters of wind turbines in the region, airport bosses have said there will be a cap on the number of the “black spots” they can introduce – likely to be between 10 and 15 sites, although the actual number is unknown at this stage.

Sites close to the airport, and other sensitive areas which carry high levels of military aircraft, have also been excluded on safety grounds.

Graeme Mason, planning and corporate affairs director, said: “We are delighted to be able to announce the introduction of this new technology, which for the first time will make wind farms possible without interfering in the safety of aircraft flying in and out of Newcastle International Airport.”

Newcastle Airport’s official new policy was drawn up in consultation with One North East, RenewableUK, and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Four new schemes have already been met with approval for the new “black spot” technology, including new generation turbines at MSD Pharmaceuticals, in Cramlington, Lynemouth, Blyth Harbour, and Kiln Pit Hill, all in Northumberland.

Newcastle International Airport have committed to meeting part of the £5m outlay to update radar services and incorporate the new technology, but have said they expect to eventually recoup most of this through fees, which developers will need to pay to secure a blanking area.

Under the new arrangements developers will pay an initial fee of £20,000 for a feasibility study to be carried out on their site. If it matches with the airport’s stringent safety policy a report will be submitted to the Civil Aviation Authority, who will have a final say on whether it can be granted.

Mr Mason said: “The safety of our passengers is always our first concern and as such there will have to be limits to the number of new sites which can make use of this new blanking technology.

“Our new technology will black out areas where wind farms could be confused for aircraft, but we will have to make sure cumulative impact does not reduce the amount of airspace we are able to monitor.

“We expect each proposal to be looked at on its own merits before we will know whether or not it is suitable for this technology to be used.”

Anti-wind farm campaigner Bill Short last night said he would have to consider the airport’s strategy before commenting fully.

But he stressed that objections to wind farms are based on much more than just radar – taking issue with the number of applications in the region.

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