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Page last updated at 08:15 GMT, Tuesday, 31 August 2010 09:15 UK
RAF Lyneham's Closure Plan

by Ashley Heath

RAF Lyneham is to close in December 2012. As the date approaches, the pace of moving its aeroplanes, kit and personnel to RAF Brize Norton quickens.

RAF Officer, in uniform, standing in front of an aerial photograph of an airfield
Group Captain David Houghton: 'The closure is extremely complicated'

The move isn't entirely welcome, with critics claiming it's based upon flawed reasoning. People in Lyneham are uncertain as to what the future will bring for them.

BBC Wiltshire has been granted unique access to the RAF team orchestrating the move, examining the challenging timetable which will see a Wiltshire airbase moved lock, stock and barrel.

"It's the most complex and biggest non-equipment programme running in the air force at the moment."

That's how Group Captain David Houghton sums up moving 2,500 people, 33 Hercules aircraft, and all of their attendant support equipment from RAF Lyneham to RAF Brize Norton.

The timeline is a challenging one, according to the man in charge of the move.

David said: "The first major milestone is in July and August of 2011, when the [Hercules] C-130 force will locate from Lyneham to Brize Norton."

There will then be a pause to make sure that the aircraft are being supported properly in their new Oxfordshire home.

"After that short pause, we'll then start moving other major units out of here [Lyneham] between November 2011 and December 2012 when the last units move.

"The ultimate aim is that RAF Lyneham has to close by 31st December 2012, and prior to that, with the departure of the Hercules force, it will stop being a flying base from the 30th September 2011.

Open for Business

All of this is set against a backdrop that says the move can never impinge on operations in support of the front line, be it in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Falklands or anywhere else a Hercules is needed.

David said: "The first thing we have to bear in mind is that everything we do in this, operations come first.

FUTURE BRIZE TIMELINE
July 2011: Hercules fleet move to Brize
Sept 2011: Hercules air ops cease at Lyneham
Nov 2011: Other Lyneham functions begin to move
Dec 2012: RAF Lyneham closes

"We look at an issue, say moving people across to Brize Norton. We have to figure out how we can do that without impacting on aircraft departing for theatre, supplies departing for theatre, equipment that's needed out there.

"Do we need that on a particular day, and then what do we do to phase in the move from Lyneham to Brize to make sure that level of output is maintained?"

The move is prompted by Government cost cutting. David estimates the net savings of the move to be in the order of £250m over the next nine years.

He said: "That's not insignificant. If we don't make those savings here, we'll have to make them somewhere else, and if we do that, there's always a risk that we could impact on front line operations. By doing this, we know we're not going to impact on the front line."

'Recipe for disaster'

The plan isn't without its critics. The ex-MP for North Wiltshire, James Gray, had questioned the savings to be made, along with the logic behind moving Lyneham's Hercules fleet to Brize Norton.

Writing in January 2010, the MP described the idea of moving a fleet from Lyneham, with two runways, to Brize Norton with one, as a 'recipe for disaster'.

"Superficially, I can understand the argument and I've heard it many times", says David. "You've got to remember that the runways here at Lyneham are quite short - the main runway is about 7,500ft long. Relatively short for a modern runway.

"The single runway at Brize is much longer, at 10,000ft, roughly."

David said that because the aircraft now based at Brize Norton are much larger than the Hercules based at Lyneham, any merger has to be at the Oxfordshire base. Returning large aircraft, if they can't get into Brize, aren't routinely diverted to Lyneham.

Instead they'll go to a larger civilian airport like East Midlands, or a larger RAF base like Waddington in Lincolnshire.

A Hercules in flight
The Hercules' Lyneham base closes in 2012

"I can see, at first glance, the idea of having all the eggs in one basket and why people raise that point with me," he said. "But the reality is that Lyneham, as an airfield, is of very little use to the aircraft that are based at RAF Brize Norton.

"Conversely, Brize Norton is of great use to the aircraft based at Lyneham."

'Ground rush' is the phrase used by parachutists to describe the feeling that the ground seems to get very big, very close and very quickly, having seemed a long way away at the beginning of the jump. It's a phrase that David can easily understand when applied to Project Future Brize.

He said: "In my office at Brize Norton, we have a big board and we count down the weeks before the first elements of Lyneham come to Brize.

"People are always very surprised when they see only 50 odd weeks [As of April 2010] before the very first forward engineers start arriving at RAF Brize Norton from Lyneham.

"Ground rush is exactly what will happen; the pace has to accelerate because it is coming towards us, ever remorselessly if I can use the phrase."




SEE ALSO
RAF Lyneham to close
04 Jul 03 |  Wiltshire
BBC Wiltshire at RAF Lyneham
19 May 10 |  Arts & Culture

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