Thursday, 5 February 2009

Manston Airport expansion limitations and considerations

Accidents fuel and oil spillages do happen at airports, in the last week one airliner slid off the runway and there was an hydraulic oil spillage yesterday.

So if we have 747s at Manston what would a spillage or accident be likely to involve?

The fuel used for jet engines like those in a 747 isn’t aviation gasoline which is a sort of hi octane version of the petrol used in cars.

Jet engine fuel is much more like paraffin that people used in paraffin heaters and oil lamps before something cleaner and less smelly came along, it is a sooty smelly burner.

Also the chemicals used in the foam to put out a fire in an air accident would be harmful to the aquifer (underground drinking and agricultural water reservoir in the porous chalk under Thanet)

How big could a spillage be and how big could an accident be?

I will stick with the 747s as an example, 747s can carry up to about 500 passengers and have a maximum fuel capacity of 57,285gallons (216,840 litres).

From this point on one can’t consider Manston expansion in isolation, because the other big developments on the aquifer put strain on water resources and pollution problems.

The problem with the airport, Thanet Earth and China Gateway is that they are all very close to water abstraction points. Thanet Earth had no environmental impact study, China Gateway’s 106 agreement looks impossible to comply to in terms of surface drainage and the airport isn’t complying to its discharge consent.

It is the cumulative effect of all of these cranking up the level of risk that worries me, rather like driving a car brakes, tyres and suspension all of which just managed to pass the MOT.

There also appears to have been a pollution incident at their bulk storage installation with the cleanup soon to start. I have published documentation to support this on a series of linked internet pages at including letters from the EA to the airport operator expressing their concerns.

The airports contingency plan to dig out a fuel spillage caused by a major air accident on the grass part of the airport was based on the ludicrous assumption that, the police and air accident authority would allow a digger to operate amongst the evidence, injured and dead bodies.

Now they appear to have accepted that this plan wasn’t viable, leaving them with plan at all.

A large fuel spillage in this part of the underground reservoir could permanently damage it meaning, no more agriculture in Thanet, no Thanet Earth, hosepipe bans every summer. The other approach of concreting it over doesn’t work because we need the rainfall on it to replenish the water.

I think it likely that the unrealistic approach to the restrictions imposed by the water source protection zones, was partly responsible for the collapse of the share price of the China Gateway developers. We certainly shouldn’t be treating people who wish to invest in Thanet in this way and need to be able to produce a clear cut understanding of what can and can’t be allowed to take place on the source protection zones, before these companies spend large amounts of money on planning for pipedreams.

The two large developments I have looked into where construction has started Pleasurama where the access road has been built without a flood risk assessment, despite a strong recommendation from the EA for one and Thanet Earth built without an environmental impact assessment both look dangerous.

With Manston business park, in the initial consultation stage TDC planning must have known that CGP would have had to conform to the same standards mandatory for the other developments on the site. Southern Water and the EA between them stipulate that the surface runoff can’t go into soakaways or Pegwell bay, it can’t go into the mains drainage as it would have to be pumped uphill (a power cut in a thunderstorm would make this unworkable, apart from the large volume of water involved making this solution unlikely to be viable) that leaves gravity fed balancing ponds. There are two problems with the balancing pond solution one is that CGP don’t own enough land lower than their site and higher than the part of the water source protection zone that they would be allowed to discharge into and the airport operator, acting as a statutory consultee has stipulated against them because of problems with waterfowl.

I suggested to TDC that some land was acquired away from the flight path towards Pegwell bay so the balancing ponds could discharge into Pegwell bay.

I then came across the issue that KCC Highways don’t need to obtain discharge consent, but obviously are nor stupid enough to discharge water from the main roads into soakaways on the aquifer, (because of lorry crashes) so they have tapped into the airport drainage system that discharges into Pegwell bay.

We now have a situation where too much fresh water is being discharged into Pegwell bay, reducing the salt water content to the point where a lot of the marine life in the bay is dieing.

No one I have asked can answer the simple question where does the surface runoff water go from the china gateway development, although the 106 has been thrashed out there are still no surface drainage plans, CGPs shares the were trading at £1.70 a year ago, last traded, last month at 10p.

All the time I come back to the problem of poor consultation between the parties involved in the three big developments on the aquifer, the most ludicrous being that in the airport expansion master plan the airport access road is shown going through some of the buildings that CGP show on their plans for China Gateway.

A problem with the water supply in the southeast is the goal posts are continually moving, the EA and other experts I consult, say that the latest concerns with development on the aquifer are those of replenishment, more water demand combined with less land to rain on.

I am sorry that some of this repetition of things I have sad before, but what we seem to be getting involved in here is considerable airport expansion before the expansion masterplan has been discussed and a safe infrastructure is in place.

Also like the China Gateway project they are going to be tied when it comes to concreting over more land, because there is nowhere for more surface runoff to go.

The picture is of the Red Arrows at Manston from the book I publish, Twilight of Pistons.


  1. As an example, Manston does not have the runway length to allow a fully fuelled 747 to take off. Secondly, a 747 with a full fuel load cannot land without burning off fuel. Also, aircraft tanks are seperated many times internally, you will never lose the contents of all tanks unless it is a very substantial crash. Agreed a fair amount could be spilled, I don't see it as a point to prevent aircraft growth.

  2. 12.46 Don’t you think some sort of contingency plan should be in place to protect the aquifer before allowing large planes to use the airport? If the aquifer is permanently damaged jobs will be lost in industry and agriculture, part of the problem here is that when the airport was first used as a non-military airport, there was nothing like the demand for water that there is now and the part of the aquifer at Westwood, hadn’t been contaminated which meant that that abstraction point there had to be closed.

    We are already running out of sufficient water supply due to the existing pollution, particularly for agriculture, where do you suggest it comes from?

    To my mind large balancing ponds away from the flight path that were able to hold the runoff from Manston, the main roads and any other development on the sensitive part of the aquifer could be the answer, provided the water was fed back into the aquifer and not into Pegwell bay where it is already desalinating the water to the point that marine life is dieing.

    Perhaps you or someone else has better ideas, I am not saying that there are no solutions, just that the half baked unsafe solutions that have been good enough for Thanet in the past aren’t good enough anymore.

    With the new corporate manslaughter and polluter pays legislation sensible government officers and reputable companies just wont go along with it.

  3. Michael, you're banging on a bit about the aquifer, possibly to the detriment of your cause. Of course these things must be considered, but preferably by those qualified to do so. For a balanced debate we must also consider the probability of a major incident above the aquifer. How many major incidents occur within the controlled environment of an airfield?

    Let the debate continue, but lets keep a sense of perspective. There are "possible" risks and "probable" risks everywhere. The debating point should be about where you draw the line of accepatability between them.

  4. OK 10.57 Reading through the various documents that relate to the new operator that wants to come to Manston, one can see that there would be employment benefits, I also notice that one of these is for 12 firelighters so they obviously consider that accidents happen at airports.

    So forget the aquifer for a mo and consider the problems that relate to the other drainage issues.

    Having checked the Manston drainage I have discovered that the main runway has no fuel interceptor, the contingency plan for a fuel spillage there is to shut off the valves and contain a fuel spillage on the runway. Having a damaged aircraft sitting in a great pool of jet engine fuel is nasty and dangerous the same situation with avgas is just insanity.

    It’s just another third rate Thanet solution, with the new polluter pays and corporate manslaughter laws no major company will go along with this sort of stupidity for any length of time.

  5. Another good point Michael, but airports don't just happen. I'm sure there is a mass of legislation governing these matters, hence the 12 new fire fighters. These rules will be based on knowledge and experience. Don't let's frustrate matters by trying to re-write the rule book, let's just make sure it's enforced.

    Air travel is one of the safest forms of transport, as confirmed by the number of people who fly but don't die every day! Surely there is a far greater risk of a fuel tanker colliding with oncoming traffic on the A253 than there is a major incident on the airfield. Are we to ban these as well or should we re-construct all our roads with fuel interceptors?

    Let's keep it in perspective. As you say, "with the new polluter pays and corporate manslaughter laws no major company will go along with this", so we have nothing to worry about if the risk exists.

  6. 17.46 I think there you have got to the nub of the matter, Manston was built as a war time emergency airport and wasn’t designed as a commercial airport, so in a sense it did just happen.

    This an air safety issue, however when I raised it I was told it would be passed on to TDC planning, my concern here is that they may lack an air safety expert.

    As Manston has no fuel pipeline there will be more tankers and if one collides under the current arrangements the fuel will end up in Pegwell bay, which is not so good, I admit.

    With the new factor of the EA now moving to restrict concreting over the aquifer because of replenishment problems due to increased demand for water a different solution needs to be found, or there can be no more expansion.

    Fresh water drainage into Pegwell bay has already reached saturation point, desalination is now killing the marine life.

    One realistic solution could be to surface the whole airport area with a waterproof membrane included, to resolve the problem of a fuel spillage on the grass part, take the runoff through a huge interceptor gravity fed to balancing ponds away from the flight path, pump the clean water back via soakaways into the aquifer. Manston business park expansion could use the same system.

  7. You're right about the origins of Manston which surely must mean that it has possibly "survived" more crashes than any other airfield in England. There was also the use of FIDO where oil was flooded the length of the runway and set alight to burn off fog. Manston has also been used extensively by the American Airforce (bombers, fighters) and many civil airlines. Additional risks have included fuel storage tanks at Jentex.

    Despite all these potential risks, I am not aware of any serious incident involving fuel spillage at the airfield. I think Manston has proved it's suitability more than perhaps any other airfield in England.


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