'Hundreds' of air traffic interventions at Exeter airport over seven years

Exeter airport Image copyright Exeter Airport
Image caption Exeter airport handles about 900,000 passengers a year

Air traffic controllers at a commercial airport had to intervene more than 600 times in seven years to keep passenger planes a safe distance away from light aircraft.

On one occasion a plane carrying 78 passengers came within 500ft (152m) of another aircraft at Exeter airport.

The airport had its application for controlled airspace rejected in 2017.

It said there had been "no events where there had been a risk of collision" in the last 10 years.

An air traffic control log book seen by the BBC reveals the number of incidents between 2009 and 2016.

Gliding club nearby

In its application to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) the airport said having uncontrolled airspace means aircraft can "enter, leave and transit the local airspace without a requirement to gain permission from Exeter air traffic control".

There are several airstrips nearby where light aircraft are flown, and the largest gliding club in the South West is about 12 miles away.

Exeter airport says controlled airspace would "reduce the number of times air traffic controllers were required to intervene".

It has re-applied for controlled airspace, with a decision expected in 2020.

Former air traffic controller Mike Mora worked at Exeter for 30 years before an incident in 2015 when the primary radar was down and a plane was coming in to land.

'Never quite sure'

He said: "The pilot made a comment about a glider and it was passing very close.

"You're aware when the primary radar is working of a lot more aeroplanes in the sky showing, and without that functioning you're never quite sure of what's out there.

"The radar just showed one and was two there, there was a second aircraft."

In this incident a Flybe plane carrying 78 passengers came within 300ft (91m) to 500ft (152m) of an unknown aircraft.

The pilot declared the risk of collision as "high", although an independent investigation recorded it as a less dangerous "late sighting".

Mr Mora said the incident triggered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and he no longer worked at the airport.

Exeter airport said its airspace was "safe and operates in accordance with stringent CAA regulations".

You can see more on this story on BBC Inside Out on BBC One in the South West at 19:30 GMT on Monday 4 March, and afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.

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