Pilot backs Panshanger airfield plans after emergency landing

PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 August 2018

Panshanger airfield during its final days in November 2014. Picture credit: Taken by Brian Cook and donated to the Welwyn Garden City Heritage Trust.

Panshanger airfield during its final days in November 2014. Picture credit: Taken by Brian Cook and donated to the Welwyn Garden City Heritage Trust.

Image from the Welwyn Garden City Heritage Trust archive.

A pilot who was forced into an emergency landing in Panshanger has backed calls to reopen a community airfield.

Grahame Thomas was flying at 1,500 feet when he heard his engine “spluttering” and contacted the distress and diversion service with a report one level below a ‘mayday’.

He told the WHT he feared for his life, and was just over Panshanger when he realised he was starting to lose height, so decided to head for the former Welwyn Garden City airfield.

Following the near-miss at around 2.30pm on Wednesday, August 8, IT engineer Grahame threw his weight behind calls to reopen a community airfield.

Doubts are growing over its viability as plans for nearby housing – currently included in Welwyn Hatfield Council’s Local Plan – have left minimal space.

“I think it’s a real shame,” he told the WHT. “I understand there is a need for housing but it’s just too easy an option to pick on airfields when there are brown field sites.”

The 54-year-old added that although there would have been other options to land, the open space at Panshanger made bringing the aircraft down easier.

“I picked it because it was the biggest field in the vicinity, but if there were houses then my options would have been further limited,” he said.

“Airfield closures are happening across the country at a phenomenal rate at the moment in the name of building houses and are at great risk.”

There are currently planning applications for a community airfield in the northern section of Panshanger, as well as a proposal for one at the former Hatfield Aerodrome site.

Aviation enthusiast Colin Fitch said in the application: “The Government inspector suggested to the head of planning [at WHC] that he should look and consider alternative options for relocation of Panshanger airfield elsewhere in the borough.

“The head of planning intimated that WHC did not have the expertise or funding to do this.

“This application is therefore intended to provide WHC another option in the event that an aerodrome cannot be retained in Panshanger.”

There are also rival petitions for and against an airfield in Panshanger, which will ultimately hinge on the borough council’s Local Plan.

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