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MoD payout £9k in compensation after horse left concussed by low-flying aircraft

PUBLISHED: 14:10 29 April 2016 | UPDATED: 15:57 29 April 2016

Almost £250,000 has been paid out in compensation for damage, injuries and loss of livestock caused by low flying military aircraft in East Anglia over the past five years, figures show.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed it spent more than £234,000 on 35 “low flying payments” in the region between 2011-16 because of problems caused by air force planes and helicopters.

The eastern region, which falls under MoD low-flying areas five and 10, is home to several British and American air bases, including Lakenheath, Mildenhall and Honington in Suffolk, and has some of the busiest skies in the UK.

MoD figures, released following a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper, show a total of £78,066 was paid out for 10 incidents that happened in Suffolk over that period. The highest single payment in the county was £32,782, relating to power lines damaged when an Apache helicopter made an emergency landing in February 2012.

Other five-figure payments in Suffolk include £12,500 for a boat damaged by a Tornado in May 2013; £9,730 for concussion and injuries to a horse, caused by a Tornado in June 2012 and £16,825 for loss of game birds caused by an Apache in September 2012.

A further £60,661 was paid in compensation for eight incidents in Essex, including £25,000 for damage to ground and crops caused when a Chinook helicopter made an emergency landing in July 2013.

Most other claims in the region related to incidents in Norfolk. These include the single largest payout over the five years – £43,319 for “tinnitus, hyperacusis (increased sensitivity to sound) and depression” caused by a “sonic incident” involving a Tornado in February 2011.

Low flying manoeuvres, in which military planes travel at a minimum of 250ft above ground – or 100ft for helicopters – are used to train pilots for various roles but are not usually allowed in areas around towns and cities with populations of more than 10,000.

The MoD, which deals with complaints about British and US low flying operations, said it took the issue of public safety “extremely seriously”.

“We understand that military low flying can be noisy and unpopular, but it is an essential part of operational training,” a spokesman 
added.

“The MoD is constantly striving to ensure that such disturbance is kept to an absolute minimum and that the burden of noise pollution is as evenly distributed as possible throughout the UK Low Flying System as a whole.”

Suffolk County Council is also working to minimise the effects of low-flying planes.

“We are aware that there is a particular issue on the estuaries where we are working with a number of organisations and Natural England to log incidents and report them back,” a spokesman added. “Natural England discusses concerns with the Ministry of Defence. Low flying aircraft pose a particular problem for wildlife disturbance on estuary sites that are very sensitive.

“From the wider planning point of view, Suffolk County Council works with district and borough authorities in regards to monitoring the impact of aircraft take-offs and landings at the military airfields on the immediate environment.”

Farmers appear to be the most regularly affected by low-flying aircraft, with seven claims involving the loss of game birds, while others related to loss of crops and injuries to livestock.

However Jimmy Butler, an experienced farmer with Blythburgh Free Range Pork, said the issue of low-flying aircraft was not a major concern for him or his colleagues.

“We’ve had no experience of it at all,” he added.

“I’ve got lots of friends in farming in East Anglia and I’ve not heard any of them talk about it either.”

Mr Butler did say, however, that low-flying aircraft could cause problems for game birds, which may get caught up in netting if disturbed by loud noises, and turkeys, which he said were also easily flustered.

Separate statistics produced by the MoD, show that it receives an average of one formal complaint for every 26 flying hours in Suffolk.

Cambridgeshire based aerospace expert Paul Eden said modern aircraft were noisier than before and therefore more likely to be heard at ground level.

“If you look at East Anglia 15 years ago there was a lot of low flying, but what we tend to see now is much higher-flying jets doing their 
air combat manoeuvring for longer and making a lot more noise,” he added.

“So they’re a lot noisier and they also tend to be up there for just 20 minutes, instead of just going woosh and then they’re gone.”

Brian Sulman, chairman of Mildenhall Parish Council, said there were few concerns about noisy military aircraft, despite the base’s proximity.

“Because we’ve been used to aircraft over a number of years, most of the residents accept it,” he added.

“Occasionally you get a stray aircraft that goes off the beaten track and comes over the town but it’s not a regular occurrence.

“The squadron leader Rick Fryer comes to most parish council meetings and informs us as a courtesy if there’s going to be any extra activities.”

The introduction of Osprey to Mildenhall prompted some noise complaints from the neighbouring communities during 2014, however Mr Sulman said the hybrid tiltrotor aircraft were only noticeable during take-off and landing.

How low can they go?

The military uses low flying as part of training for aircrew throughout the UK.

According to the MoD low flying by military aircraft in the UK has reduced since 1988,but remains an essential skill for military aircrew.

It allows them to train for various roles such as reconnaissance, search and rescue, and transporting troops or humanitarian aid.

Low flying involves fixed-wing aircraft flying down to 250ft from the ground and rotary wing aircraft (eg helicopters)flying down to 100 feet from the ground.

Rotary-wing aircraft can also be authorised to go lower than 100ft from the ground.

Low flying isn’t usually allowed in areas around airports, or towns and cities with populations of more than 10,000.

History

The practice of low flying first came to prominence as the best way to penetrate Soviet air defences during wartime. However, when military forces entered Kuwait in the early 1990s those tactics became quickly outdated, says aerospace expert Paul Eden.

“We sent Tornadoes in at a very low level against the Iraqis and quite a few were shot down in the early days,” he said. “At the same time the Americans used new tactics of flying higher to great success and took down the Iraqi defences, so everyone said maybe we don’t have to go in at a low level.”

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