Monday, March 31, 2008

Could Ramsgate Be The Next Biggin?

With smoke still rising from yesterday's crash site near Biggin Hill, it may appear a trifle unseemly to speculate about what might happen here in Kent's Ramsgate Peninsula should, heaven forbid, one of those 400 tonne lumps drop out of the sky on its way to or from RAF London Kent Ramsgate Manston International Airport. But people have been emailing me with that question. And you know me, I was never one to steer clear of controversy.

The houses that were destroyed in Farnborough, giving the unfortunate residents their very own unwelcome air show, were about six miles from London Biggin Hill Airport. Which is reassuring, since that would put any similar accident here well out to sea, or somewhere near Herne Bay.

However, only a couple of houses were destroyed by a five tonne Cessna Citation private jet, whereas the jumbos flying over the Millionaires' Playground weigh more than 70 times as much. Furthermore, Bromley Council limits movements at Biggin Hill to 125,000 per year, whereas dear old Thanet Council don't seem to give a flying whatsit. The current agreement governing Manston was drawn up with the now defunct Planestation in 2000, and the council's current line is that they don't need to do anything else until the present owners Infratil ask them to. Training flights a few hundred feet over Ramsgate every 8 minutes? No worries!

Of course, the chances of one of these 'modern and reliable aircraft' (©2008 Dr S Moores) dropping out of the sky onto 40,000 people and hundreds of fine Victorian buildings are pretty remote, aren't they? Well, one of the freight jumbos that flies into Manston belongs to MK Airlines. The people of Halifax, Nova Scotia got a rather rude awakening on 14 October 2004 when a Ghana-registered MK Airlines freighter crashed on take-off killing seven people. The crash investigators put that one down to overtired pilots, who mistakenly instructed the 747's speed and thrust measurements to handle the weight from a previous takeoff, when the plane was 100,000 kilograms lighter.

And, of course, even sophisticated BA 777's drop out of the sky, as we saw at Heathrow in January. I'm off to buy a hard hat!

Click here for report of MK Airlines 2004 crash in the Halifax Star
Click here for latest on Biggin Hill crash on BBC website


Anonymous said...

I was wondering if anyone else was thinking what I was thinking....and you were!!! When my sash windows start rattling and the ceilings vibrate I actually breath a little sigh of relief to see the tail end of the plane disappear over the horizon.

Anonymous said...

This is in very poor taste even by your despicable standards the bodies are still being recovered. PLease cancel my subscription.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear ECR. You'll be stoking up your Daily Mail readers with this one.

Tragic things happen in life, and thankfully for air crashes, very very very rarely. Lets keep some perspective.

Eastcliff Richard said...

I think that's exactly what I've done. Put it in perspective.

Anonymous said...

Then it might be worth adding that many hundreds of flights land and take-off safely every day in the UK and the statistical chances of an accident are immensely small. For perspectives sake, of course.

Tony said...

Ridiculous statement ECR. Look higher in the sky and work out how many planes directly fly over us, in the designated flight paths. what do you suggest, ban them all in case they come down? Unfortunately accidents happen anytime anywhere. Have to agree with anon's 1:53 first sentence.

DrMoores said...

I believe you need to place this tragic story firmly in perspective ECR to avoid being alarmist.

Air travel remains the safest form of transport by orders of magnitude and is more safety regulated than anything else.

Biggin Hill was a tragedy and it was fortunate that nobody on the ground was killed or even gravely injured in the houses involved. I did wonder yesterday afternoon whether I knew the pilot or not. It's a small world in aviation.

The residents, like the residents living close to any airport, have a much higher probability of being injured in a gas main explosion or by a passing lorry on the way to Ramsgate harbour. No great re-assurance perhaps but we need to be sensible and place the risks of living in a modern world and close to a large airport in perspective.

Aviation is as safe today as one can possibly hope for. More so in Europe and the UK than anywhere else on earth. The Citation was desparately unlucky and the pilot clearly did all he could to clear the houses in an impossible situation.

Eastcliff Richard said...

You're right about the lorries, Doc, given all the construction work that's going on down at the Pleasurama site, and the number that illegally park on the Western Undercliff.

But the thing is, if I was knocked down by a lorry nobody would care. If Ramsgate was obliterated by a 747 quite a few people would care. Maybe not our Margatecentric council, but quite a few nonetheless.

Rick said...


It is you using the inappropriate language. "Alarmist".

The fact is that Thanet Police and emergency services held an exercise based on the theoretical crash of an aircraft at Newington.

As you know, applying FBI figures for exepcted reliability of emergency backup generators on civil keypoint roles, the chances of a backup generator on a hospital suffering two identical three fault sequential failures are 1 in 2.98 billion. But it happened. And it happened in spite of warnings perhaps written off by the incompetent (Kent Police) as "Alarmist".

IF civil aircraft performed to the reliability standard of emergency backup generators then there would be 11 (Eleven) crashes for every 600 takeoffs.

Your position is based on this assumption. That the maintenance standards of aircraft will not fall towards the standards of emergency backup generators.

Are we training the engineers ? What happened to the quality apprenticeship ?

Look at what our govt has done to the domestic electrical industry. A Labour MP's daughter electrocuted by wiring done by a kitchen fitter. Kneejerk regulation reaction of nulabour. Part P Building Regs. Governing bodies. Records of work etc.

Yet when Met shot a Brazilian here working illegally as an electrician was there any check as to what sites he had been on ? Whether he had 16th Edition IEE Regs certificate etc etc ?

If you think that sort of cowboy could not get work on aircraft ?

Right in your own Constituency Assn you had a cllr convicted of forging qualifications ? And in 1998 was there an inquiry at one of Thanet's major employers into an engineer fouind to have gained the job by using "Qualifications suspected courtesy of Cyril" ? An "engineer" who had failed his Army Trade test in REME ? A North Thanet tory cllr ?

So you don't have to look beyond your own peers for reasons to doubt that standards can be maintained in this country.

I hope that in reply you point to the Air Investigation people.

I want to amend the HSAW Act to make HSE investigation of emergency backup power failures "Reportable" for mandatory investigation on a par with air accidents.

For two reasons

(1) General case of unreliability

(2) Reasons to suspect that the industry was targetted for sabotage consistent with Stage Three of the OIRA Garland Plan

Who ? Wee Sean Garland the man who allegedly orchestrates dollar and document forgers on the mainland ....

Did I mention engineering qualification forgery vis a vis Thanet ?

ECR is not being alarmist. It would be madness to base the safety of the local population on anticipation of continuing safety standards.

tony flaig bignews said...

I would go with unseemly and rarely thats as far as iread

DrMoores said...

Rick, while I hear what you are saying, I suggest we have to make a distinction between your arguments concerning what may or may not have happened in the past, international aircraft safety standards and the capabilities of the emergency services.

As far as the first is concerned, 1:1000,000 is at the lower end of international acceptable safety levels and I'm not convinced that we can draw parallels with generator standards but will defer to your knowledge of such matters.

As far as local politics and players, I rather hope we have moved on since the time you describe.

As regards ECR's comment, there is a relatively small amount of approach airspace between the end of Runway 28 and the sea from a large jet's perspective. Given the 3 degree descent path with all engines out - extremely rare in a large jet, the odds favour either reaching the runway or landing in the sea. Unlike the Citation, a big jet is unlikely to lose all engines after take off and in the event of an emergency - remember that Manston is also an alternative for the space shuttle -will be on a glide path that will take it to the threshold of the runway. At this level of aviation, its a matter of physics and trigonometry and you see this happening every time the space shuttle lands from orbit with no engines. Just a big glider!

steve said...

one thing that might be escaping some of you. Building a runway pointing at a town 90 years ago where a wood and canvas sopwith would not stand a chance if it came into contact with piece of victorian design is ok. Fast forward to the present day where an ancient jumbo thunders overhead just above rooftop height. One mistake by the pilot,small technical problem on approach and whole streets will get wiped.

steve said...

and this is an ancient jumbo run by a company whose postal address is in that shining beacon of avaition safety - Ghana.

DrMoores said...

It doesn't work that way Steve. The greater probability is an overshoot of the threshold than an undershoot and Manston has a very long runway, hence its association with the space shuttle as an emergency landing site.

Also, you need to consider the statutory clearway at either end of the runways to factor in even this contingency.

Short of dramatic and unforseen windshear, big aircraft don't suddenly drop vertically on final approach, they have a demonstrated best glide angle and speed and so, like any potential aircraft accident scenario, we are discussing a very low probabilty event, while at the same time, understanding that a risk factor must always be present, when an airport, like even Heathrow, is close to a community, however low that risk may be.

Anonymous said...

Thanet's well known for its wind shear isn't it? That's why we're getting a wind farm.

DrMoores said...

No.. not "X winds" but windshear as found below thunderstorms, a microburst, when you have a sudden collapse of very cold and dense air with an equally sudden change of wind direction as a result.

Wind shear, is a microscale meteorological phenomenon occurring over a very small distance. Initially, this outflow causes a headwind that increases airspeed, which normally causes a pilot to reduce engine power if they are unaware of the wind shear. As the aircraft passes into the region of the downdraft, the localized headwind diminishes, reducing the aircraft's airspeed and increasing its sink rate. Then, when the aircraft passes through the other side of the downdraft, the headwind becomes a tailwind, reducing airspeed further, leaving the aircraft in a low-power, low-speed descent. This can lead to an accident if the aircraft is too low to effect a recovery before ground contact!

Anonymous said...

The Flying Doc is doing more blogging on ECR than in Thanet for the past 7 weeks and being so informative on aviation matters. Wonders never cease or is this 1 April?

Eastcliff Richard said...

I've buried the hatchet but forgotten where.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it time the Jumbos practised a flight over TDC HQ, it would soon become a HSE issue as the windows vibrated and our Execs dived for cover.

steve said...

as an aside to the dangers of a plane landing on us, would anyone like to know what 80kg represents in regards to the landing/takeoff cycle of a 747-200?

steve said...


Anonymous said...

Steve, I would love to know!!??

'MR X'