A “shocking” military dossier reveals a catalogue of potentially catastrophic air safety incidents, many of them related to unlit turbines and new or uncharted developments.
However, the Ministry of Defence withheld more information on national security grounds meaning the real number could be much higher.
Last night, campaigners called for an urgent review of the mapping and lighting of wind turbines to prevent a fatal crash involving a low-flying aircraft.
The 59 near-misses were classified from negligible to high in terms of severity with 15 cases – most of them from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray – in the high-risk category.
One Sea King helicopter captain revealed that search and rescue crews were having to manually update flight charts to keep pace with the renewables industry.
He said: “Occasionally up to a hundred amendments per cycle are required to be plotted and this must be repeated on up to a dozen copies of some charts.
“If a chart is used by the aircrew or becomes dog eared that chart must be replaced and the amendments re-done.
“On average, over a thousand hand plotted and written amendments are required per month, taking many hours of work.
“Cumulatively over a period of months or years the task becomes mindless, very onerous and extremely prone to error.”
One third of the reports were made by pilots or ground crew from Lossiemouth, which is often used for low-level training flights over the Scottish mountains.
A hazard report filed in September 2013 concerned an uncharted 300ft wind turbine, adding: “It is of particular concern as it is on the Inverurie Heli Lane into Aberdeen.”
It also noted that a single turbine marked on their charts had been “developed into a wind farm with over 10 turbines”.
Others relate to temporary anemometer masts, which are erected to measure wind speed. One Sea King report said: “Over the course of a 5 day detachment to Glencorse Barracks, Edinburgh, several unlit anemometer masts up to approx. 200ft were sighted… The masts were thin and difficult to see by day, and would have been near impossible to see at night being unlit.”
Last night, Scotland Against Spin spokeswoman Linda Holt said the catalogue of “shocking” incidents represented only the “tip of the iceberg”.
She added: “What about civilian aircraft, including private planes and helicopters, microlights and gliders? Aviation impact is yet another aspect of wind energy where public safety has been given short shrift.
“The problem of unmapped or unlit turbines and masts is the result of the subsidy-driven frenzy in speculative wind development since 2008.
“We know of a number of turbines and masts where aviation lights have not been fitted, or fail to function, despite being required by planning conditions. Taken together with inadequate mapping, it is only a matter of time before these unlit hazards cause fatal accidents.”
Ms Holt said ministers had to act now to prevent accidents and added: “This requires urgent action from the Energy Minister Fergus Ewing if he is not to have blood on his hands.
“He should order an immediate review of the mapping and lighting of all operational wind turbines in Scotland. A comprehensive inquiry into aviation incidents involving turbines and masts should also be undertaken with the aim of improving future planning and enforcement and reducing unnecessary risks to pilots and the public.”
Stephanie Clark, Policy Manager at industry body Scottish Renewables, said: “The wind industry enters into early engagement with the MoD to ensure that any proposals are assessed against defence flying requirements. If any concerns are raised, the MoD will work with the developer to identify ways to mitigate them as part of the planning process.”
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