Airport finger’ plans come under fire
A solar farm at the airport could affect the handling of emergencies, a former firefighter has claimed.
Karl Outerbridge, who served with the airport fire service for several years, said the area earmarked for the power plant could be needed to keep aircraft a safe distance from the public if a disaster happened.
Mr Outerbridge was speaking after a planning application was lodged to turn “the finger” at the airport into a solar farm.
He said: “That finger needs to remain free and clear so if something happens, we have somewhere to put that aircraft.
“That’s the bit that no one is stopping to think about. When something goes wrong, it doesn’t just stop at the immediate area around the plane.”
Mr Outerbridge started work at the LF Wade International Airport in 1999 while on a break from the insurance industry.
He said he served as a foam vehicle operator for several years and was often called out for major incidents. Mr Outerbridge added: “While there, you are constantly trained to think about what would happen in this scenario or that scenario.
“I was the lead firefighter on a call when a US military C130 was landing with a fire on board.
“It was filled with extra fuel and ammunition. They parked it at Gate 1, which is right next to the fuel tanks. I was going in and the soldiers were running away.
“During the period I was there, the Egyptian Army would constantly make stops in Bermuda. They would do a hot refuel, which means they’re taking on fuel when their engines are still hot and the fire department has to be on standby with the trucks.
Mr Outerbridge questioned what would happen if an aircraft with high-risk material on board needed a hot refuel and if there were would still be a spot where it could be carried out with minimum risk to the public.
He said: “Should there be an incident where one of those planes has to come down, they need to be put somewhere.”
Mr Outerbridge said the finger was also used after the 2001 terror attack when flights from around the world were grounded. He added: “That finger looked like City Hall car park. It was incredible the number of planes they stacked there.”
Mr Outerbridge said the island’s location in the middle of the Atlantic made it an ideal landing spot if there was another mass grounding.
He added: “If Bermuda wants to present itself as serious — we’re going to have a new airport, new facilities, we welcome airlines — we can’t say we have a spanking new airport but don’t show up in our yard. That’s bad for business.”
Mr Outerbridge said he understood that pilots were also worried about the availability of safe spots to park planes in emergencies and about the quality of firefighting services at the airport.
He added the finger could be used for fire service training and reduce the need to send Bermudian firefighters overseas.
Mr Outerbridge said that water catchment areas across the island could be used for the installation of solar panels instead.
But a Government spokesman said a safety risk assessment was conducted on the solar project and it was agreed that it would not be a safety risk. He added that the airport could use the five acres of Apron VI, at the top of the finger, in emergencies.
The spokesman said it has been used as an aircraft parking area since 1995 and the finger has not been “designated or used” even in emergencies.
“Apron VI is designated as a parking area for aircraft including, but not limited to, military aircraft and aircraft requiring isolation. It is not the only area available as additional parking for aircraft.”
The spokesman added that a fence would separate Apron VI and the solar farm, and a safety assessment found no negative impact on safety and operations.