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No plane sailing for wind turbines

Parts of the Cookstown district may never benefit from renewable energy that wind turbines have to offer, due to a safety issue involving aircraft using Belfast International Airport.

The wind farm reflections, which have identical characteristics as moving aircraft, can be dangerously misleading for air traffic controllers at Aldergrove.

Objections to planning applications from people interested in erecting a turbine are not raised as a matter of routine and each case has to be individually assessed on the grounds of aviation safety.

A wind turbine provides a cost effective way of harnessing the power of the wind and using it to generate electricity.

A spokesperson for Belfast International Airport told the MAIL that less than one in 30 wind turbine applications are opposed and that the airport will never compromise on safety.

According to an airport spokesperson, moving turbines return a radar signal and false targets reduce an air traffic controller’s ability to interpret the radar screen. CAA regulations require the airport to review all turbine applications within a 30km radius of the airport.

Recently Coagh Sports Centre lodged an application for a wind turbine which was designed to reduce running costs but it was not approved.

A spokesperson for Belfast International Airport said it supports the harnessing of renewable energy sources pointing out that there have been 55 objections out of 1,800 applications.

“In the context of an airport, and aircraft movements, where safety has to be paramount, there are unacceptable risks posed by wind turbines.

“Turbine blades, when rotating, bounce back radar signals giving the impression that something is moving in the airspace. These signal returns create false blips on radar screens which can cause confusion and doubt as to the location and movement of aircraft. The returns are inconsistent, meaning it is impossible for controllers to decide if it is a turbine, a light aircraft, a helicopter or even a microlight,” she said.

Inside the next couple of years it is likely that wind turbine mitigation systems will become available.

And she added: “Belfast International Airport will continue to act responsibly, and in line with its legal obligations, by opposing some applications on grounds of aviation safety. However each application will need to be assessed individually”.

Cookstown Ulster Unionist Councillor, Trevor Wilson who has been involved in several applications for turbines, said he fully understands the reasons why plans are turned down.

“Hopefully modern day technology might be able to solve surveillance problems created by radar reflections from wind turbines,” he said.