Press Release: March 7 2016

Search & Rescue service adds to long term risk of aircraft accident at the Dungeness nuclear complex following planning condition change

A planning condition associated with Lydd Airportís April 10, 2013 approval for its large scale development has been quietly changed to allow an unlimited number of search and rescue (SAR) helicopter flights at Lydd Airport once its runway has been extended. Bristow Helicopters Ltd currently operates the service, having been forced to relocate to Lydd from August 2015 following the closure of Manson Airport.

The SAR service uses aircraft types which have the critical mass to cause a serious radiological release were an accident to occur at the Dungeness nuclear complex which is located less than 3 miles from the airport. The service has also been granted access to flight paths denied to other aircraft due to nuclear safety concerns. In combination with the built up in heavier fixed wing activity once Lydd Airportís runway is extended, the SAR service will increase the potential for the probability of a serious aircraft accident at the Dungeness nuclear complex to further exceed the nuclear regulatorís threshold of acceptability.


Currently helicopter movements (flights) at Lydd Airport are unrestricted, but once the runway is extended it triggers a constraint under a condition associated with the governmentís April 2013 approval, which was - helicopter movements (flights) could not exceed 1200 per annum, a figure based on Lydd Airportís claimed number of annual helicopter movements in 2005.

This condition has been changed to exclude SAR flights with no restrictions on their total which means an unlimited number of SAR flights could be made in addition to 1200 non-SAR flights. According to the documentation supporting this change submitted by Lydd Airport to Shepway District Council, there will be around 1800 SAR flights per annum (300 call out and 1500 training). Assuming the SAR total does not increase once the runway is extended, this indicates around 3000 possible annual helicopter movements, compared to the historic figure of 1200 per annum. These flights will be in addition to the maximum permissible number of fixed wing flights of 40,000 per annum compared to the historic figure of around 21,000 per annum, most of which were by light aircraft (maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) less than 5.7tonnes).

Aircraft with a MTOW in excess of 5.7 tonnes are acknowledged by the nuclear regulator to have the potential to cause a serious nuclear accident (able to kill 100 or more people) should such an aircraft crash into a nuclear power station. In turn, the increase in the probability of an aircraft accident at Dungeness is related to the increase in the number of movements of such aircraft.

During the recent planning process the nuclear regulator failed to recommend restrictions on the number of flights according to the weight of the aircraft - which it did at the time of the previous (1988-1992) development proposal to ensure the safe operation of the nuclear power complex and the airport.

As a result of not imposing these restrictions, it will be possible for up to the total number of permissible flights (40,000 per annum) to be represented by aircraft having the potential to cause a serious nuclear accident i.e. having a MTOW greater than 5.7tonnes.

By contrast, the nuclear regulatorís recommendations behind the 1992 planning approval (decision lapsed) heavily restricted aircraft according to their weight. Although a total of 56,000 aircraft movements were permitted, the regulator recommended that only 6000 of these annual movements should be represented by aeroplanes with a MTOW greater than 5.7 tonnes, plus no more than 600 annual helicopter movements. (No official explanation for this discrepancy in recommendations has been provided by the regulator.)

This means relative to the position in 1992, the current planning permission will allow up to almost 7X the number of fixed wing aircraft capable of causing a serious nuclear accident, despite the total number of permitted flights being almost 30 percent lower - and up to 5 times the number of helicopters assuming there is no expansion of SAR activity. These metrics result in the probability of an aircraft accident at Dungeness leading to a significant radiological release far exceeding the nuclear regulatorís threshold of acceptability.

Since Bristow operates helicopters with a MTOW > 5.7 tonnes (AW139s and AW 189s), its presence will add to the risk of a serious accident at Dungeness particularly when the service is permitted to use flight paths to the east of the runway which are not available to other aircraft because they are considered too dangerous from a nuclear safety perspective.

Louise Barton
Lydd Airport Action Group
The Hook
Madeira Road ,
Kent ,TN28 8QX,
01797 361 548

Notes to editors: