Geoff Jones visits the latest airfield to open its doors to GA – Llanbedr Airfield in North Wales
It’s not very often a new airfield opens for civilian traffic in the UK, complete with three hard runways; the longest being 7,000ft+ in length. Llanbedr (EGOD) in North Wales on the coast of Cardigan Bay and close to Harlech and the Snowdonia National Park is the location, now being operated by Fly Llanbedr under Commercial Director Mike Spears and with CFI Ed Hollinshead. Llanbedr has to be one of the finest airfield locations in the UK.
It opened in June 1941 under RAF Valley’s control, intended as a forward airfield to protect the UK from enemy raiders in the Irish Sea. Spitfires arrived in October 1941 followed by a huge variety of types: Lockheed Lightnings, Lysanders, more Spitfires, Mustangs and – post-War – Mosquitos, Beaufighters, Vampires and Meteors. Most recently it was used for target towing duties and for operations by the fore-runners of today’s RPVs (Remote Piloted Vehicles), then RAEs Jindeviks, fired and operated in the restricted areas of Cardigan Bay as targets for trainee military fighter pilots. The last military usage was ten years ago.
Fly Llanbedr is run by a group of investors and enthusiasts who want to see general aviation grow in this, until now, civil aviation back-water. The airfield’s re-opening as a seven-days-a-week operation could be the spur for further activity here, with an anticipated RPV contract awarded to Qinteq seeing operations by these aerial vehicles starting in winter 2014. If this happens then fuel will become available. The Wales Air Ambulance may also use Llanbedr as a secondary field, enabling it to expand its service and area of coverage.
There is already plenty of hangarage, Fly Llanbedr hoping that part of one will soon become home for up to ten aircraft. Brian Gowland, who is one of the company’s founders, started the LAA North Wales ‘strut’ in Caernarvon many years ago. It has 45 members, most with their own aircraft, and hopes that Llanbedr will become an important location for sport aviation.
With June 2014 producing some wonderful flying weather, Fly Llanbedr has been inundated with visiting pilots and their aircraft. On the mid-June day when I flew to Llanbedr I was one of thirteen visitors and the day before there’d been fourteen. Landing fees are currently £8.00 for sub-750kg aircraft, £12.00 for 750-1,500kg and above that ‘by negotiation’. All visitors receive a free cup of tea or coffee and soon in their old control tower base, a new restaurant/café will be opened to encourage members of the public as well as pilots to visit the airfield. The Flying Club has acquired a Cessna 152 for training and air experience flights, and has been awarded an ATA by the CAA.
At the moment most pilots seem to take a stroll either to the nearby beach, or in to the nearby village for a lunch at ‘The Victoria’, a popular hostelry. The railway station is close by, so with good timing – trains are not that frequent – you can venture further afield. Fly Llanbedr hopes to have some bicycles available soon for visiting pilots to hire, the coastal area here being very flat and cycle-friendly.
If it’s radio contact you want Llanbedr has just the 118.925Mhz frequency for pilots to transmit on, but currently has no air-to-ground. You can call Western Radar, which will assist you in the general area, and a call to RAF Valley may also be appropriate as military traffic is frequent in this area during the week. However, this location is very much ‘wild west’ and with the mountains of Snowdonia and the Cader Idris range rising to over 3,000ft in Llanbedr’s hinterland no pilot should attempt an arrival here in marginal VFR without very careful planning. All pilots are currently requested to give PPR online before departure, and a last minute call to Fly Llanbedr on 01341 771 771 may be a good idea in case any ‘weather’ has drifted in off the sea.
My visit showed what enthusiasts can do – everyone at Llanbedr was helpful and friendly, anxious to get this new venture off the ground. They have been blessed by wonderful weather following their opening – it won’t always be like this, but with flying training, an active aero club and other aviation action in prospect, the sleepy acres of the former RAE Llanbedr have now awakened to the benefit of all general aviation. In 2014 this has to be applauded.
More information on www.fly-llanbedr.co.uk or call 01341 771771 or 07876 210488