Closure decision 1994 - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Closure decision 1994

The definitive word about closures came in July 1994 when it was announced by MoD that both Finningley and Scampton would eventually close, a decision that stunned most aircrew and ground crew in the RAF. That announcement prompted the Lincolnshire Echo newspaper to start a remarkable media campaign which they called the 'Save Our Scampton Campaign'. Inevitably, it quickly became known throughout Lincolnshire as the SOS Campaign. Almost every working day for the next 12 months or so Julie Wetton, a tenacious reporter at the Lincolnshire Echo, called me about 8am to ask for comments on the latest rumours and snippets she had gathered, and every day I faxed a summary of our conversations to the MoD and Command HQ. Julie knew I would never tell her anything that I was not supposed to, but she also knew I would report all her stories and rumours to the MoD,

At this stage, as far as I could judge, no-one had considered that the Red Arrows might be disbanded; it was automatically assumed that if and when Scampton closed, the Reds would move somewhere else. In view of the confidential brief I had been given before even starting my job, I was keen to encourage that assumption. So, on 28 July 1994, I sent a fax to the MoD giving a summary of the rumours that were currently circulating about a new home for the Red Arrows. Here are just some of them, all of them we would probably call “fake news” in 2018:

* One self-appointed expert in Sleaford, who preferred to remain anonymous but who regularly provided the Sleaford Standard with stories, confidently announced that the Red Arrows would be moving to Barkston Heath, the Cranwell RLG.
* Several Red Arrows 'experts' telephoned various Oxfordshire media to report that the Team would be moving to RAF Brize Norton.
* A newspaper in Cirencester telephoned to ask me to comment on a report that the Red Arrows would be moving to RAF Fairford, where they had started out in 1965.
* BBC Radio York and a couple of north Yorkshire newspapers reported that we would be moving to RAF Leeming.
* A reporter on the Western Daily Post rang me to say that the Chairman and members of the Newquay Council were very unhappy to learn that the Red Arrows would be moving to Newquay Airport, formerly RAF St Mawgan, because we would seriously interfere with their civil aircraft movements. Would I please comment and also explain why the Newquay Council had not been involved in consultations about the move.
* The Marketing Manager for Exeter Airport called me to say that their management were willing to provide a home for the Red Arrows and asking to whom he should write to make a firm offer.
* At the other end of the UK, a newspaper in Elgin asked me if I could confirm that the Team would be moving to RAF Lossiemouth on the Moray Firth.

The real facts are that a formal study was initiated and every RAF airfield was considered as a base for the Red Arrows. It could have been news of this study leaking out that led to the many wild assumptions. It was highly desirable, but not absolutely essential, that the chosen base should be part of the new Personnel and Training Command (formed on 1 April 1994 by the merger of Support Command and the RAF Personnel Management Centre), and not Strike Command because that would have created command and control difficulties. Account had to be taken of the Red Arrows' need for six 30-minute training slots every working day in the winter months and that would mean barring the selected airfield to all other movements for at least three hours a day. Not a single airfield was willing to accept that limitation without a fight.

Many airfields were ruled out because of their location at the extremities of the UK. The Red Arrows need to be based reasonably close to the major air display locations otherwise there will be a lot of transit flying, which is very expensive in terms of fuel and wear and tear on aircraft. In that respect Brize Norton or Fairford might, but only might, have been suitable since the majority of UK air displays were south of Birmingham but bases in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were non-starters. Taking everything into consideration, we were not surprised to learn that the study concluded that there was no airfield in the whole of the UK more suitable than Scampton. We at Scampton had come to that conclusion weeks earlier - and without spending any money!

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