20 Nov 2010

Gliders could be grounded by new law

Gliding – flying a plane without an engine – is popular in Britain, and we have regularly produced world champions. But, as Keme Nzerem discovers, the sport is under threat from a new European law.

Gliding is popular in the UK but could be under threat from a new European law (Getty).

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) wants to introduce a new continent-wide pilot’s licence which will improve safety.

But the licence means no more flying near clouds and restrictions on evasive manoeuvres often necessary in cloudy British skies for gliders, posing a threat to the sport which is enjoyed by 8,500 people in the UK.

Cloudy skies

The reason this is more of a problem for Britain than for Europe is cloud cover. Clouds bring thermals, but also turbulence, and under the new rules pilots may have to keep a certain distance away from them. In Europe, cloud cover is typically much higher than in the UK – so piloting gliders in normal British conditions could effectively be banned.

The EASA wants to unify training and standards across all member states, but the new licence could mean specialist British safety training on how to fly close to clouds is scrapped. Without this training, pilots say it isn’t safe to fly because glider pilots have to know how to recover from things that might happen in rough air, such as stalls and spins.

“We have some world-class glider pilots…why should they be put out of business?” MEP and amateur pilot David Campbell Bannerman.

UKIP MEP David Campbell Bannerman is an amateur pilot, and told Channel 4 News there was no good reason for the change.

“We have some world-class glider pilots. You know, we have 8,500 people that enjoy this sport – it is a sport. Why should they be put out of business? You know there is no good reason to do this other than this EU harmonisation agenda.”

But EASA told Channel 4 News that the gliding community of Britain should not panic, as the regulations are still being worked on and could include exemptions.