At the end of September we welcomed a very special flight into Bristol Airport from Aerobility which is a registered charity started in 1993 offering disabled people, without exception the opportunity to fly an aircraft.
The Piper Warrior aircraft arrived on 22nd September flown by Geoff, he has kindly put together this report for us to share on our website:
I started learning to fly with Aerobility (www.aerobility.com) in August 2019. Aerobility provide opportunities for disabled people to learn to fly in adapted aircraft either through scholarships or by providing tuition at cost price. I have always been interested in aviation but never thought that it might be possible for me to learn to fly due to my disability. This has taken nearly 2 ½ years with me completing almost 80 hours of training. Unfortunately, two lockdowns and trying to learn a new thing at the age of 48 have significantly contributed to the length of my training. I passed my skill test in April of this year and I can’t get enough of flying. To date I have completed over 20 hours since passing my test.
Every year, Aerobility offer the chance to win ‘prizes that money can’t buy’ in an auction to raise funds for the charity (keep an eye out if you are interested as they will have another auction in November). My wife won a tour of Bristol airport control tower in the auction and gave it to me as a birthday present. The control tower and radar are operated by National Air Traffic Services (NATS) so once I had the contact information for the GM at Bristol, a date was set for 22nd September and I decided see if it was possible for me to fly in using the Aerobility aircraft. Steve O’Donoghue from NATS pointed me in the direction of Bristol and Wessex Aero club who pulled some strings and kindly allowed me to land at Bristol.
I asked a friend of mine, Andrew, to come as he has an interest in aviation and his father was an air traffic controller in the RAF. The day started well with light winds and high cloud at Blackbushe but as we got closer to Bristol, the cloud lowered and I gave serious consideration to cancelling the whole thing and turning back. After reducing altitude, I could see that the clouds were clearing and called up Bristol Radar. The initial contact with a new Radar region can be daunting and sometimes a little frosty, however when I passed over my details and intentions, they couldn’t have been more helpful.
I was cleared to enter the airspace and routed towards Clifton Suspension Bridge – it looks really big from the ground, but I had trouble spotting it from the air – thank goodness for SkyDemon! I was then cleared to land following a lull in the EasyJet aircraft coming in packed with holidaymakers. Thankfully my landing was uneventful (which for a low-hours pilot is always something worth celebrating) and I taxied to the parking area. Unfortunately, light aircraft are separated from commercial aviation at Bristol as I would have loved to pull up to one of the stands at the terminal building.
The Bristol and Wessex team met us on the apron and helped with the parking – I am a wheelchair user and this is often one of the most difficult parts of visiting other airfields. We had a look around the club building before being whisked off to the other side of the airport and straight to the top of the control tower for a birds-eye view of the runway. We spoke with one of the controllers who described how the old pieces of card are now gone, replaced with a computer system so that aircraft can be moved between Radar, Tower and other airports. It was all very informative, some of this I already knew from my study of air law and flight planning, but I was also surprised how much I had forgotten.
We then went down to see the Radar controller position which covers a much larger area and has to manage the flights out of London and Cardiff as well as those landing at Bristol. Before I visited Bristol, I was aware that the airport had a very poor reputation among the General Aviation community and I asked the controllers why this was. As ever the response was that it is due to staff shortages and also a desire for the airport to increase its commercial flights rather than the general aviation ones.
After another trip around the airport back to Bristol and Wessex Aero Club, we were escorted out to the plane and booked out. We left Bristol via Cheddar Gorge and headed off to Popham near Basingstoke. It felt very strange to go from the full ATC of Bristol to a tiny airfield with just A/G! After a cup of tea and a cake, we did the short hop back top Blackbushe to put the plane to bed.