1999

Reports of three meetings held in 1999 follow.

Spring Meeting:   6th-7th March 1999, Stockport

Forty-two members and guests attended this meeting for lectures and a tour of Manchester Airport’s second runway construction.

The meeting was held at the Davenport Park Hotel in Stockport. The company was excellent, the food and service likewise and above stairs would have delighted John Cleese.

We foregathered over lunch on the Saturday. In spite of many plans no one had managed to fly in themselves.  One new member and his wife flew schedule air from Heathrow – worthy of the Presidents Cup?  Those of us who left our planes on the ground were pleased to note the snow, sleet, rain and gales that swept the venue during the morning.

A tour of Manchester’s second runway development in the afternoon was cold, windy and wet underfoot but not rained upon.  Indoors, we were briefed with an emphasis on safety, equipped with hard hats and conspicuity jackets and then taken by Land Rovers on a tour of the works. At various points we stopped to look at, and if suitably shod, visit points of special interest.  We saw some protesters who, we were told, are not entirely passive also, specially built newt reserves and bat barns, plantations, the ruins of the old GA south side facility, mountains of stone and a huge acreage of mud. One of the places we stopped at was the bridge built to carry the runway over the river Bollin.  What is a bridge to the runway is a tunnel to the river, built as an elongated arch over the watercourse then covered by filling in the valley around.  We, like ramblers of the future, were able to walk beside the river through the tunnel and back again, giving a powerful impression of the massive scale of the overall operation and the scrupulous attention to preserving and perhaps improving the landscape, flora and fauna. The visit was curtailed by lack of time.

Dinner was such that some of our best trencher persons had leftovers, conversation was fluid and no one went to bed hungry or thirsty. We were lulled to sleep by the sounds of the youth of Stockport at a disco.

Sunday morning’s three talks were diverse and by common consent fascinating to all.

Bob Pooley outlined his aviation career;  gliders, powered, twins, helicopters, balloons.  He started work as a mechanic doing national service in the RAF and then went to de Havilland’s at Leavesdon as an engineer on Chipmunks, Doves and Herons followed by Hatfield on Comet flight tests. In 1957 whilst still there he started his own business making and selling knee boards.  Flight guides followed, then his own shop in Elstree and in 1964 the CRP 1 computer followed in 1966 by a factory at Cranfield.  There are presently three versions of the flight guide.  In his view the hard back version is for archival purposes and the spiral bound one is out of date when it is published.  He therefore only recommends the loose leaf version with its amendments every six weeks – it is also available on the www.  There are now twelve retail competitors in the UK alone, so he is reverting to manufacture and supply.  He has also taken over making the Aristo computer, which was briefly owned by Rolring, making big sales in Europe, but so far only one in the UK.  He is proud of the fact that specimens of his CRP 1-5 navigational computers, some of them very elderly, are often returned for refurbishment (replacement parts are still available).

He moved on to talk about his beloved Forter castle which some of us have been fortunate enough to visit (Winter 1998 newsletter).  Some years ago, visiting Perth on business and travelling through Glen Shee, he came upon the ruin, trees growing out of it, and plundered of much of its stone.  It was subsequently advertised for £15,000.  This seemed a modest sum for a heap of rubble, albeit with no main services, but turned out to be the entrance fee for a very expensive if thrilling roller coaster.  Permission for restoration came from the Historic Scotland Buildings Council and a lot of help from the Scottish Council.  Local acceptance was, he avers, on the basis that one of his grandmothers was the illegitimate daughter of an Edinburgh doctor.  Stone masons came from Lossiemouth, stones were retrieved from the Campbell destruction, new sandstone came from Cumbria, new granite from Sweden via Aberdeen and Balmoral stone from India.  It was all cut by hand on site and put together like a giant 3D jigsaw. There was a government grant for the main structure which was complete in 18 months.  Major savings could have been made on “staff management” (leaning on shovels is only moderately productive).  Iron work was custom made in Arbroath, two chandeliers being copies of one in the governor’s palace in Lanzarote and finally, internal fabric is all British Caledonian tartan, the first bolt having been bought at Heathrow whilst awaiting a flight north.  The next 300 metres seems to have bypassed BA on their way from the manufacturers, the details are confused!  Now although entirely tenable, work continues on the finer details and probably will for some time to come.

A well told story of visions and the determination to pursue and achieve them.

David Walters is a Lloyds name and has survived the recent difficulties.  He got into a syndicate through flying a friend to Paris to interview another prospective name.  Flying back he enquired why he hadn’t been asked and promptly was.

Although the disaster was treated with indifference or sniggers by most, the real effect was an £8 billion loss, which with the £5.6 billion lost tax revenue, took approaching £14 billion out of the economy – £750 for every taxpayer, equivalent to 250 new hospitals or 10p off the top rate of tax. The biggest losses were to the USA, resulting in a huge outflow of sterling.

The attraction of membership was a tax advantage when income tax could be as high as 98p in the pound.  Thus a £100,000 underwriting loss with a capital gain of £50,000 from investing the premiums could result in a top taxpayer receiving 98% back on his loss but his gain in full; so he would have lost only £2,000 from £100,000 of his income plus his gain, or £48,000 tax free.  However, in the interests of remaining a world force, membership expanded from 7,000 in 1914 through 8,000 in 1973 to 35,000 in 1989 resulting in a rapid expansion of the capital base with a concomitant rise in business.  Another result of this was a similarly rapid rise in inevitably inexperienced staff and a temptation to take on poor or bad risks. There were then a series of disasters which left many of the names with not only greater liability than resources, but greater liability than they thought they had taken on.  The world saw fraud but the reality lay with first “the spiral” and secondly “the Americans”.

The spiral; e.g. Piper Alpha was insured for say £1 billion with Lloyds who kept what they considered an acceptable risk and “laid off” the rest to other insurers.  This is called reinsurance and is taken on by huge specialists such as Munich RE and Swiss RE.  What Lloyds had not realised was that the reinsurers were themselves reinsuring part of the risk back to guess who!  Lloyds were accepting reinsurance premiums from these companies, not realising that it was the same risk coming back to them. When the ordure hit the rotary apparatus, Lloyds thought it was carrying £100 million but in fact was carrying £700 million.  This also happened in a short time with Hurricane Hugo, The Exxon Valdez disaster and Dupont’s £1 billion chemical plant explosion.

The Americans, being the only current super power felt (and feel) able to pass retrospective legislation about pollution and industrial risks such as asbestosis, making insurers liable for risks that were unimaginable let alone unknown at the time that policies were written.  The bill for asbestosis alone is calculated at £167 billion over the next 20 years.

Unlike e.g. Commercial Union, Sun Alliance or Norwich Union who together with all other insurers make a market, Lloyds is not a company but a market within itself.  Just like any town’s covered market the Council (or in this case Lloyds) provide the building and some services but the goods are procured and sold by individual stall holders (who have syndicates of backers, the Names).  Because stall holders can pack up when they like, they are required to meet all their liabilities in that year and trade within their reserves. They cannot hide a (bad) year’s losses amongst the next – or even twenty – good year’s premiums.  Success relies on their knowing the likely liability – see “The spiral” and “The Americans” above. When the combined bill came in it was for an additional £8 billion, which is where we came in and why David and Frankie have forgone the pleasure of our meetings for the last few years.

It should be noted that Lloyds is the most secure insurer in Britain today.  The only sufferers were the Names and their families and no policy holder lost a penny.

David has promised to give us part two, “Recovery”, next year.

Rory McLoughlin is employed by Manchester Airport PLC as operations manager dealing with the aircraft operation issues arising from the construction of their second runway, and its ultimate licensing by the CAA. He started working life, knowing that he wanted to do something with aeroplanes, as a marshaller at Ringway as was.  Manchester is the third busiest airport in the country (to Heathrow and Gatwick), with 180,000 movements a year.  The need is for a hub and bespoke operations with waves of feeder lines filling or emptying international flights.  The current peak handling capacity is 48 movements an hour if everything goes like clockwork.  Demand has been as high as 51.

The site and orientation for the new development were chosen after consideration of operational requirements (flight paths, capacity, taxiing distances) and technical and commercial requirements (engineering feasibility, environmental impact, cost, the granting of planning permission).  The gestation was protracted.  1991-1993 were taken with developing strategy, design concept and public consultation following which plans were submitted to the two local authorities affected – Manchester and Cheshire.  1995 and 1995 were taken up with a public enquiry and final government approval was given in 1997.  The project is being carried out by eight separate major design build contractors, hence the need for a project manager.

The result will be a second runway 06R/24L parallel to but staggered from the present one.  It will be 3050m long plus a 150m starter strip making 3200m in all.  The runway will be 45m wide, its centre line separated by only 390m from the present, the stagger being 1850m.  There will be a plenitude of taxiways to allow access from the terminal buildings. There will be a number of extra facilities such as an electrical substation and a satellite fire station. For the first time there is a perimeter access track.

The major elements of the scheme, apart from the actual construction, are:

  • environmental impact mitigation,
  • River Bollin culvert (tunnel to those who saw it),
  • second A538 tunnel,
  • burying a 400 Kilovolt National Grid line (they switch it off first),
  • demolition of the south side facilities,
  • moving the radar installation and viewing park and
  • closure of the Altrincham road.

Unavoidable airport impacts have been or will be:

  • loss of the south side G.A. facilities (and for practical purposes loss of G.A.),
  • loss of local radar (Nov 1997 – Feb 1998),
  • intermittent loss of the ILS,
  • nocturnal runway closures during 1998 and 1999 and
  • temporary short term daytime closures.

Once again the emphasis on environmental issues and public involvement were demonstrably to the fore and the interlocking complexity of the project was most ably demonstrated.

The meeting closed, as is customary, after a lunch which matched Saturday’s meals for quality, quantity and of course conviviality.

Andrew Clymo.

Summer meeting:  4th-6th June 1999, Shenington

The weather forecast and clash with the French meeting militated against this being overwhelmed by attenders.  Nevertheless, twenty one members and guests assembled during Saturday including three airborne parties.

As planned, the event was informal. The weather was good enough on Saturday for glider launches by both winch and aero-tow and some members tried both during the morning.  Go-Karting in the afternoon was exciting and well patronised in spite of heavy showers.  The final laps were done with six karts, half on wet weather tyres and half on slicks.  The latter demonstrated the phenomenon of aquaplaning and the total impossibility of controlling it.  Some of us learnt a lot about two dimensional spinning, the kart simply follows its current trajectory whatever you do – just like ground looping, sit back and enjoy it.  It transpired that there were no Schumachers amongst us so no one came seriously unstuck and there were no collisions.  We ended with a lot of wet and laughing people who somehow managed to get dried out in the gliding club house.  We went on to a sumptuous barbeque, cooked outside but eaten in, and a convivial evening at the bar.  Those who stayed on to Sunday enjoyed the best weather of the weekend and some good gliding. We were sorry not to have any ballooning but hope to try again next time.

Andrew Clymo.

Autumn Meeting:  3rd-5th September 1999, Coventry.

Report:

Coombe Abbey Hotel was the antidote to Stockport.  Cistercian Abbey in the 12th Century it may have been but any notion of asceticism, austerity or self denial left when the developers moved in.  The only remaining elements of mysticism came from the revered hush and near Stygian gloom of the entrance hall, the latter designed, I believe, to engender mood rather than from a misplaced economy drive on bulbs or electricity.

We convened during Friday afternoon on the first floor of the new clubhouse of the Coventry Aeroplane Club and lingered over an ample buffet lunch/tea.  Coventry Airport has the advantage of heavy commercial traffic that all happens at night – the main hub for Her Majesty’s Mails – leaving all the facilities for the rest of us to use by day.  The Club balcony afforded a view of the intrepid who groped their way below the Birmingham zone through haze bordering on smog.  It is not a primary navigation tool, perish the though, but thank goodness for GPS. Transport to Coombe Abbey was by mixed convoy of minibus and other assorted surface vehicles.  Once there, members prepared themselves for the banquet to come, some fortifying the inner self with drink and conversation in the well tended gardens, some by contemplation of the ceiling above their beds and some by wandering the grounds until the appointed hour.

One imagines banquets in medieval times to be held in poorly ventilated virtually unheated smoky halls where indifferent food accompanied by beer and mead in large quantities was served by wenches and villeins in apparel of doubtful cleanliness.  This banquet, although inspired by that image, was a product of the last months of the twentieth century with excellent well cooked food, good wines, smart service and well rehearsed entertainment by a choir drawn from the attendants.  Audience/diner participation was encouraged and the end result justified that confidence.

Air Atlantique’s origins lie in Jersey in 1969.  It is now a conglomerate of aviation related companies owning Caernarfon airfield, owning and operating a fleet of five Lockheed Electras and one of the worlds largest collections of DC3s. Two of the latter are on permanent standby for spraying detergent on oil slicks.

Air Atlantique opened their doors to us on Saturday morning, their new terminal being housed in a large, cunningly assembled agglomerate of Portakabins.  The entertainment was in two parts, tours of their hangars and flights in historic aircraft.  The hangars were notable for their large collection of DC3s or variants, some later but nevertheless venerable machines undergoing routine maintenance, two DH Rapides and the airframe constituents of a handful of Britten Norman four seat touring aircraft that never came to fruition.  A revelation to me were DC3 wings which can be quickly removed outboard of the engines by undoing myriad tiny bolts.  A substantial park of aircraft being restored for the museum (see later) included an Avro Shackleton (50,000 rivets flying in loose formation) which was open for our inspection.

Antique flying was limited by the only passenger licensed DC3 being in Blackpool and the absence of any Rapide rated pilot.  Some of us were lucky and got rides in a Percival Prentice before its brakes gave out under the strain and everyone who wanted, got airborne in the Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer, before lunch in the airport restaurant.  For those who missed this visit, Air Atlantique do tours for the general public including rides in their antiques for a modest charge (01203 88269).

After lunch our coach took us a few yards up and across the road to what was scheduled as a short visit to the Lunt Roman Fort.  This is a reconstruction of the outer palisade, defences and some of the buildings. One of the latter is also a museum where we met our guide. His enthusiasm and extensive knowledge, particularly of the way that people lived, proved infectious and kept us all enthralled for most of the afternoon. One of the special features of the fort, apart from the lovely weather, was and is a horse training ring, added after the main buildings, one of only three identified outside Rome.  It is suggested that losses of fully trained animals to sea transport made it much cheaper to ship untrained ones and then train the survivors or locally impressed beasts for despatch all over Britain.

One we had steeped ourselves in ancient Rome we went on to Coventry City Centre, most to view the Cathedrals and then back to Coombe Abbey to recoup our energies for the evening.

The Association’s Annual dinner was taken in the Lanchester refectory of Coventry University.  After initial confusion over the numbers and their seating, 58 members and their guests dined in good fellowship with customary informal speeches thereafter.  The Guinness Cup was won by the outgoing president Tony Watson and the President’s Cup was awarded to Andrew Clymo for innovation (Informal Meeting at Shenington).

Sunday dawned fine. The AGM preceded our return to Coventry Airport where members of the Coventry Aeroplane club in their club’s training aircraft treated us to a formation flying display.  We then walked a short distance outside the perimeter to the Coventry Air Museum.  This has extensive indoor displays, notably one about Sir Frank Whittle – a local boy, and static aircraft parked outside. Some of these, manned by volunteers, were open to visitors.

Another sumptuous buffet at the Coventry Aeroplane Club preceded departures by road or air.  My personal experience was of dodging thunderstorms but nevertheless arriving well ahead of the ground party.

Andrew Clymo