THE managers of Bicester Gliding Club have said they are concerned about its future as the owners of Bicester Heritage continue to develop plans for their airfield.

The gliding group, which has operated from the airfield as a civilian club since 2004, prides itself in teaching young people how to fly gliders and powered planes.

In 2013 Bicester Motion, then called Bicester Heritage, acquired RAF Bicester – which has been an active airfield since 1927 – including the land on which Bicester Gliding Club runs, ‘with a view to securing its future through sensitive development.’

Also read: Investigations launched after glider crash in Bicester

Based at the airfield off Skimmingdish Lane, Bicester Motion moved the club from its existing hangar and clubhouse to the current one with the clubhouse refurbished and occupied in April 2018.

Operating a fleet of more than 15 aircraft, the club has spent some £50,000 to upgrade its premises, however managers are now worried about whether they have long-term security there.

In its latest masterplan to regenerate the site, Bicester Motion has published an artist's impression which the gliding club said appeared to show a new race track running through their airfield.

Oxford Mail:

Club managers said this could effectively stop flying, but Bicester Motion chief executive Daniel Geoghan said there was nothing in the plans that would stop the club flying.

He said: “The historic layout of the former RAF site does include a two-mile perimeter track, and it is our plan to refurbish that but not to create a ‘race track’.

“The perimeter road, and adjacent modules, are likely to be used for circulation around the site, driving experiences and driver training. The plans have been very carefully developed in consultation with professional advisers and users of the airfield and will maintain the ability to fly from here.”

Also read: Land Rover fanatics take over Bicester Heritage

Bicester Gliding Club chairman Peter Harvey said managers had been in communication with Bicester Motion to ensure any developments did not affect the operation of the airfield.

He said: “We have seen their proposed outline development ideas and hope they can balance the expansion, so aviation remains available to the community, on site, for the foreseeable future.

“Any vehicle track across the airfield will effectively prevent aviation, powered or gliding – a fact we made clear after seeing the initial development ideas.”

Oxford Mail:

At an open day at the club last week attended by local councillors and representatives from the aviation industry, Mr Harvey spoke about how valuable the club was to its members, of which 50 per cent are youngsters, with several 14-year-olds flying solo this year.

He said: “Bicester airfield is a little gem and something local residents can be proud of. It’s one of the oldest airfields in the UK, with a rich heritage of aviation activity and development. It’s still very active, particularly amongst our cadet and student members.

In pictures: The Jaguar Enthusiasts Club at Bicester Heritage

“To give young people the chance to fly is great: it’s real – not a virtual game. It opens up the possibilities for the future and that conversation with nature is everlasting. This is an amazing place.”

John Gilder, chairman of the Airfields Working Group in the All Party Parliamentary Group for General Aviation, also made the point that gliding clubs are key in creating the UK’s future pilots.

He said: “Europe needs 108,000 pilots in the next five years. Lots of pilots are retiring and there is now a demand for young pilots. Gliding is the first stepping-stone into aviation and young people can learn lots of residual skills that they can take into a career in aviation."

Oxford Mail:

Bicester Motion's masterplan also includes a new hotel, which was unanimously approved by Cherwell District Council in October, as well as a new technical site which includes nine new business buildings.

Work on the latter commences this summer and the remaining components of the masterplan have been presented to the council with a view to permission being granted later in the year.