Inside military week at Leeds Bradford Airport: "The reaction has been fabulous"

An RAF Airbus A400M transport plane
An RAF Airbus A400M transport plane
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The man who oversaw the planning of a week of military aircraft training at Leeds Bradford Airport has given an insight into the logistical challenges involved.

Airfield safety and compliance manager James Baldwin and his operations team welcomed around 15 aircraft to the site this week - to the delight of thousands of plane spotters around Leeds.

The RAF were attracted to several factors that make LBA ideal for practicing manoeuvres at civilian airports - including its altitude, conditions and location.

This is why a huge military aircraft was flying over Leeds today
"We offered and they accepted - there are mutual benefits to them coming here that they may not get from other airports. Geography is a big one - it's in the middle of the country and many of these large planes are based at RAF Brize Norton, so it's a nice distance for the crews to travel - they can climb, chat a bit on the radio and then descend.

"The conditions too - we have two runways facing either direction. The 3.2 runway over the city is a category 3 approach, so pilots can be very precise, while the 1.4 runway is a steeper approach."

Mr Baldwin's favourite visitors during the week of exercises were the Canadian Air Force's C17 transport plane - one of the biggest aircraft in the world - and the pair of RAF Tornado fighter jets.

Watch one of the biggest planes in the world land at Leeds Bradford Airport
They were practicing landing, approaches, go-arounds, and operating in a civilian environment.

"Our staff benefit too - they travel at different speeds, they're different sizes, they use different phrases on the radio, and we can rehearse emergency procedures.

"The main challenge of planning the week was the logistics. Our customers are the priority - we're very nearly in the summer peak and traffic levels are ramped up. We made no adjustments to scheduled flights and there were no delays at all caused by military activity.

Thanks for the memories: Canadian Air Force C17 leaves Leeds Bradford Airport
"The main restriction is that they are limited as to which taxiways they can use because they are so big. But it all went off without any hiccups."

The sight of the aircraft proved popular with plane spotters, and hundreds of people lined the viewing areas hoping for a glimpse of the unusual arrivals.

"The plane spotting is a consideration for us - the engagement with people is one of the non-tangible benefits of hosting this week. We've had a phenomenal amount of questions and comments on social media and we've seen so many wide-eyed faces pressed against the fence!"

Military aircraft do use the airport on a fairly regular basis, and Mr Baldwin hopes that the week will increase awareness of their activities.

"They're not new to Leeds - we accommodate military a lot, but this week they've been here in a more condensed amount. We will focus on our summer season now but would we host it again? Absolutely. It's been a huge success and I feel we've won hearts and minds.

"I want to say a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported us - we do see your comments, we can't always publish the exact timings but we will try and give out as much information as we can. The reaction has been fabulous."

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