Farnborough Air Show

Show keeps tight safety rein on display pilots

 - July 3, 2008, 5:05 AM

More than 50 years ago, the English Channel coastline near Selsey Bill was the location of two record-setting flights, and now this south coast of England area, more than 40 miles from Farnborough International’s flying display, is the designated destination for pilots faced with what the organizers term a “pre-meditated ejection.”

However, the airshow’s 100-page flying regulations contain no such provision for pilots facing more-urgent requirements to bail out. The document simply advises: “Whenever possible, aircraft should be abandoned clear of populated areas.”

Although it has been 40 years since any ground fatalities were caused by accidents involving Farnborough’s daily flying displays, the organizers endeavor to ensure safety with rigorous requirements and oversight by senior professionals. Display rules cover three main areas, according to Farnborough International’s head of services, John Cairns.

The first part includes aircraft arrivals, demonstration flights, departures, aerial displays (including familiarization and validation) and flying discipline. The next section deals with airfield characteristics and air traffic control, while the remainder is concerned with flying display arrangements and regulations.

Since the former military airfield achieved civil status several years ago, the Farnborough show regulations now include UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requirements, plus those of Farnborough International and its flying control committee (FCC). Full International Civil Aviation Organization Category 10 fire service coverage is provided on site throughout the July 7 to 23 show period, during which time the airfield operates under visual runway conditions because of the proximity of temporary exhibition buildings. Flight operations personnel take into consideration the location of aircraft in the static display, particularly large jetliners, because tail height is a factor in ensuring adequate safety margins.

Manufacturers’ flying displays on trade days take place between 2:15 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.; customer demonstration flights on those days may be scheduled before 1:15 p.m. or between 5:10 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. On public days, they are limited to mornings.

On the show’s last three public days, the normal flying presentations are joined by historic aircraft, such as the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, as well as the Royal Air Force Red Arrows aerobatic team, British Army Red Devils parachute team and the Royal Navy Black Cats helicopter duo.

The flying control committee controls all display flying. “Breaches of flying discipline are likely to result in aircrew being required to break off and land,” say the regulations. “Repeated or serious breaches will result in aircrew suspension for the remainder of the exhibition.”

Farnborough International has requested an exemption from normal CAA 1,000-foot minimum height requirements governing low-level flying over populated areas.

Aircraft performing flypasts must use a 3.5-degree (rather than standard three-degree) approach flight path, while high performance aircraft are required to minimize afterburner use over populated areas. To accommodate aircraft requiring more than Farnborough’s nominal 5,906-foot runway length, a temporary unlicensed extension to 6,824 feet is available during the show.

To obtain display validation, pilots must attend a flying control committee briefing and demonstrate good- and bad-weather routines in accordance with their previously declared flying display details.

Depending on size, individual aircraft are usually allotted slots of five to seven minutes for their display (including time for planned runway maneuvers), although routines can include an airborne start. Pilots must perform the display sequence at least four times during the 30 days before the show, including once in the preceding eight days.

Cairns is a former Shackleton and Nimrod maritime reconnaissance pilot and he has also piloted Vulcan bombers. He is responsible for security, engineering services, traffic management, and health and safety issues. As such, he has to understand and meet the needs of Colin Hagee, the Farnborough flying display director, a former Westland Helicopters chief test pilot.

Farnborough is essentially a civil show that uses military procedures. Before the show, Cairns works closely with the flight operations committee of the Society of British Aerospace Companies, which owns show organizer Farnborough International.
As the event approaches, this group expands to become a large element of the flying control committee, which comprises about a dozen UK aerospace industry flight operations personnel, including several chief test pilots. Marshall Aerospace chief test pilot Iain Young currently chairs the flying control committee and reports to the flying display director. They all will be hoping there are no requirements for pre-meditated (or other) ejections this week.