The Department for Transport (DfT) has published its survey of airfield operation in respect of executive aircraft, club and training flying, and light aircraft collectively known as General Aviation (GA). It is likely that the Minister himself, as a private pilot, would have had some input.
The survey was organised by the DfT as part of an evidence-gathering exercise to gain insights into operations at GA airfields across the United Kingdom. It builds on the 2015 GA strategy and the 2018 Davies report.
Previous research into the GA sector sought to better understand the environment in which airfields operate.
In 2018 a York Aviation report looked at the existing numbers of UK airfields and their capabilities. It outlined several reasons why airfields were increasingly coming under pressure for development, without consideration for the needs of the local aviation community, local businesses or the airfield’s potential wider connectivity benefits.
Building on York Aviation’s research, former GA Champion Lord Byron Davies in his report on the GA strategic network (2018) identified a number of criteria to ascertain airfields of a strategic importance to a UK-wide network and the economy, and made recommendations about preserving the benefits of GA and those airfields that may form part of a key network.
Some of the main findings that emerged from this new survey are:
The majority of the activity at GA airfields is from training, recreation and business aviation but there is a diverse range of activities at airfields with maintenance, emergency services and charity events also playing a role. The majority who responded are micro-businesses that had five or fewer employees and in some instances were run entirely by volunteers.
Employees in the sector are disproportionately male with 56% of responding airfields reporting they had more male than female employees. Similarly, 64% of respondents said there were skills gaps in the aviation sector that needed to be addressed, in particular engineers.
Responding airfields cited some of the main challenges for the future of GA were financial concerns, local authority policies, CAA regulation and lease issues. The wider context also featured, highlighting environmental concerns amongst the population and a lack of interest in aviation amongst younger people, compounded with an ageing workforce.
Responding airfields cited some of the main opportunities for GA were expansion/business growth, improving the infrastructure of their airfields, improving training, and furthering engagement within local communities.
The full findings of the GA survey are presented below.