We’ll consider a spaceport at Leuchars - but not an airport

The Leuchars base was used by a number of civilian aircraft during the Dunhill Links golf competition at St Andrews. (Photo by Dave Scott)
The Leuchars base was used by a number of civilian aircraft during the Dunhill Links golf competition at St Andrews. (Photo by Dave Scott)

Hopes of the RAF Leuchars base being used as a commercial airport have again been dashed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The base is on a shortlist drawn up by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of eight “potentially feasible” sites for the UK’s first Spaceport, and North East Fife MSP Roderick Campbell had suggested it would be prudent for the option of a commercial airport to be considered at the same time.

Previous similar requests from the SNP MSP to the MoD to conduct a feasibility study into the use of Leuchars as a commercial airport have received a negative responses.

And Mr Campbell was disappointed, but not surprised, when this latest request was also knocked back.

He said: “It is very disappointing that the MoD has chosen to ignore my request for information in relation to a commercial airport at Leuchars, particularly now when the base looks so bare following the departure of 1 Squadron to Lossiemouth in September.

“I have said for some time that Leuchars has excellent resources that should not be left to waste away. Leuchars is an excellent location for a commercial airport and already has infrastructure in place.

“I cannot understand the MoD’s position – they will not consider a commercial airport but will happily contribute to discussions on a spaceport at Leuchars.

“I am asking the UK Government to do the sensible thing and consider both alternatives at the same time.”

As if to back up calls for a commercial airport at Leuchars, a number of jets and other civilian aircraft made use of base last weekend, providing air transport to and from the Alfred Dunhill Links Championships.

RAF Leuchars has been used regularly over the years when major golf events have been taking place in nearby St Andrews, and Mr Campbell believes there is a strong case for at least looking into the possibility of extending its use for more commercial flights.

However, Anna Soubry MP, responding to Mr Campbell on behalf of the MoD, confirmed the department’s position on the operation of commerial flights from RAF Leuchars, as set out in previous letters, had not changed.

She stated: “Due to Leuchars’ long-term secure future as a military base, the MoD will not be investigating the commercial use of the airfield.

“However, if contacted by an organisation looking to conduct such a study into its commercial use, then it is likely that the department would be content, in principle, for them to do so.”

Meanwhile, the MoD has responded to the Department of Transport’s spaceport consultation, but won’t comment further until the results of the consultation are published.

The prospect of a spaceport at Leuchars was revealed in the summer, with the Government keen to establish the UK as a leader in the rapidly expanding space market.

It could mean space travellers leaving from Fife within five years.

Leuchars is one of eight sites – six of them in Scotland – which meet the criteria for a spaceport set by the CAA, including runway length, distance from densely populated areas, a coastal area and the ability to offer segregated airspace for spacecraft.

A Department of Transport public consultation on the criteria to determine the location of a UK spaceport was due to end this week.