Daedalus spreads its wings

The operating future of the old Royal Navy aerodrome at Daedalus is assured, says its owner Fareham Borough Council. We know, they say, because we put £1.5 million into it after we bought it last year, including resurfacing the runway.

To be fair, that looks like an organisation putting its money where its mouth is, but what about the proposed on-site National Grid interconnector terminal that – by running high power electricity cables under the aerodrome – could interfere with aviation activity and high-tech systems by creating a powerful electromagnetic field above ground?

Not on my watch, says Fareham’s Executive Leader Councillor Sean Woodward. “We saved this site for aviation, so we’re not going to do anything to damage that.”

Yes, he says, the interconnector will be sited at Daedalus to the north of the airfield, but not until means have been agreed to neutralise any electromagnetic effects, whether by shielding or by burying them at sufficient depth underground. At the moment the aerodrome costs Fareham about £0.3 million a year, says Woodward, and income from the new tenant would help with investment while they work to make the airfield sustainable.

And they have plenty of investment plans still to run, says Woodward. The big plan, already under way, is to use non-operational land on the Daedalus site to attract aviation, aerospace engineering and marine industries that would benefit from being based on an operational aerodrome. This is not such a far-fetched idea when Daedalus’ location at Lee-on-the-Solent is wedged between the civil marine port of Southampton and the military harbour at Portsmouth, plus Britten-Norman and NATS are already on site, and the airfield has a runway capable of serving business jets.

Woodward says he doesn’t see the aerodrome as the main money-maker – for the time being at least – but as the attraction to lure businesses to the site. One of the incumbents already at Daedalus is a technical college, CEMAST – Centre of Excellence in Engineering Manufacturing and Advanced Skills Training for the aerospace, marine and automotive industries. It accepts 900 students a year, all places taken.

daedalus-tower
RCA (Regional and City Airports) manages the airfield and air traffic control for Fareham

While at Daedalus last week I detected an infectious enthusiasm among people at all levels there, born of a respect for the site’s long aviation history and a determination to capitalise on it.

daedalus-slipway-hovercraft
Serious aviation history here. Daedalus was a RN Air Service seaplane base in WW1, before it became an aerodrome. Taken from the seashore, this picture shows the seaplane base slipway and the old hangars at the top. And the Hovercraft Museum that’s sited there too.