Officials seize cocaine suitcase

Border officials at UK airports have enjoyed some success in the fight against drug smuggling, after a would-be dealer was apprehended at Bristol Airport earlier this month and two more individuals were sentenced to a combined 10 years in prison for cocaine trafficking offences committed in January and June.

On Saturday, officials at Bristol Airport arrested a man trying to smuggle a suitcase full of cocaine into the country. The man, Andrius Karbauskis, believed to be Lithuanian in origin, arrived on a jet from Antalya, Turkey, carrying the £250,000 haul in "false compartments" inside the suitcase.

Cocaine, which is one of the most popular recreational drugs in the world, carries a maximum penalty in the UK of life imprisonment for supply, and seven years in jail for possession. People have been charged with ‘intent to supply’ after being found with just 1 gram of the Class A substance.

Gateshead man Dean Gilmore was sentenced to three years in jail on Friday for a botched attempt to escape Newcastle Airport with £88,000 worth of cocaine. Dean, who was carrying 2.4kg of the banned drug, was arrested in January after locking himself inside his own vehicle, a Vauxhall Omega with a malfunctioning auto-locking mechanism.

Detective Constable David Johnson said that the “vigilance” of airport staff and police officers had contributed to Gilmore’s arrest.

Completing the trio of convictions, Elphia Dlamini, an air hostess at South African Airways, was found guilty of cocaine smuggling on Monday and sentenced to seven years in prison. Elphia was rumbled by sniffer dog Clever Trevor at Heathrow Airport in June. She had been carrying a 3kg drugs haul worth £120,000 in her bra and knickers.

Somerset newspaper The Weston Mercury claims that the UK Border Agency is “cracking down” on a range of offences, from drug smuggling to sham marriages and illegal immigration.


‘Green light’ for Bristol expansion

The UK secretary of state has raised no further concerns about Bristol Airport’s controversial expansion plans, meaning that work on the project can now begin as planned. The move ends years of bickering over the environmental impact of the £150m scheme.

Councillors had recommended that the expansion go ahead as recently as May 2010, but the paperwork had to be considered by a local planning association before construction could begin.

Bristol has one of the largest airports in the UK, handling an average of 5.6m travellers every year. However, the hub wants to attract 9m passengers within the next five years and 12.5m passengers by 2030.

Such a monumental jump in traffic is unachievable with facilities that are more accustomed to handling a few million a year. At least that is the argument that Bristol bosses have been putting forward since the airport’s Master Plan was published in 2006.

The Master Plan, which is a document detailing the airport’s plans for the near future, also mentioned a huge rise in the number of aircraft travelling to and from Bristol Airport, from 53,000 in 2004 to 108,000 in 2030.

Critics were not impressed with the news, and set about trying to block the expansion.

Four years later, a representative for the pressure group Stop Bristol Airport Expansion, Hilary Burn, said that the news of the airport’s success was “exceptionally disappointing” and “against North Somerset Council’s policies".

Airport bosses claim that the plan was subjected to “vigorous examination" but opponents have drawn attention to the airport’s ‘policy’ of ignoring the results of public consultations after only 320 of 5,500 comments were in favour of the plan.

In protest, the magazine Beautiful Britain painted a runway in a Bristol field during May to highlight a perceived trend of runways springing up ‘overnight.’

The airport believes that the project will be a huge boon to the local area, creating 4,000 jobs and generating £340m extra revenue per year.


Airport roads ‘filled with cars’

Airport parking might not seem like a polarising subject, but the rapid adoption of levies for people wanting to use airport drop-off zones has kept the nation’s car parks at the top of the headlines in recent months.

Now, councillors in the southwest are bidding to keep parking problems in the spotlight for another week, by accusing Bristol Airport of increasing traffic congestion on the A38, a major trunk road that feeds the hub from the south.

The problem is again linked to drop-off zones, but unlike Edinburgh Airport, Bristol does not charge passengers for using the ‘kiss and fly’ area located outside the main terminal – for the first ten minutes, at least.

Drivers who want to stay for longer than ten minutes must pay a £4 fee for up to 30 minutes parking and £5 for 30-60 minutes. Stays of longer than 2 hours incur a charge of £50, the equivalent of 11 days parking in the long stay car park, when pre-booked.

Once the permitted stay has expired, drivers cannot use the free drop-off zone for a full 15 minutes.

Bristol councillors note that drivers are trying to ‘bend the rules’ by leaving the airport once the initial free period has elapsed, and parking on the roads surrounding the airport until the 15 minute no-return rule has lapsed.

Ironically, forcing drivers to leave the airport after ten minutes, a measure that is supposed to ease congestion at the hub, has contributed to a rise in the volume of traffic moving along nearby roads.

A spokesperson for the airport urged drivers to think carefully about how long they intend to stay – “customers using the drop-off zones for longer stays are reducing the number of spaces available for short ‘kiss and fly’ stops.”

The airport claims that the existing parking scheme encourages people to park in the “most appropriate car park” for the length of their stay, but residents in the village of Wrington, Bristol, want their local hub to make on-site parking more attractive to potential visitors.


Deal secures peace for Bristol villagers

Barrow Gurney is a small town in Somerset, situated by the banks of a reservoir, and surrounded on all sides by open farmland. It has a traditional village hall, the ‘dirtiest hospital in the country’ prior to its abandonment in 2006, and traffic calming measures that would make a tank pause.

The town has been blighted by heavy congestion over the past few years, with regular travellers using Barrow Gurney’s roads as a shortcut to Bristol Airport. The town has the incredible misfortune to be stuck on the only major road that connects the A370 and the A38, with no other routes within 5 miles of the village green.

As the A38 leads directly to Bristol Airport, the Somerset hub has been much blamed for most – if not all – of Barrow Gurney’s traffic problems. Fortunately, a newly signed contract between the airport and local taxi firm, Checker Cars, could help alleviate rural congestion in a number of small towns and villages in the Bristol area.

Checker Cars will now be encouraged to avoid Barrow Gurney, wherever possible, or risk losing its exclusive contract with Bristol Airport. Drivers must also honour the town’s 20mph speed limit if no alternative routes can be found. The airport’s transport officer, Ian Hiles, hopes that Checker Cars can be instrumental in ‘improving’ local communities.

‘Fuel-efficient’ cars and buses will be added to Checker Cars’ ranks over the coming year, suggesting that Bristol Airport is trying to lose its reputation as an enemy to the rural environment. The airport was recently the target of a campaign by magazine, Beautiful Britain, which implied that an expansion of Bristol’s terminal was being undertaken without regard for public opinion.

The magazine sketched a giant runway in a field beside the M5 motorway. The words ‘Planning Approved’ were stamped across the middle, epitomising the public’s struggle against aggressive expansion.

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Campaigners paint runway mural

At first glance, Bristol and Heathrow airports might appear to have little in common, save for a few similar airlines and a bookstore or two, but these two hubs share a rather unpleasant accolade: they have both drawn criticism for their expansion plans, however successful they might be in the end.

Campaigners’ main concern is that public opinion is being ignored, especially with regard to the environmental impact of night flying, terminal upgrades, and runway extensions at Britain’s many airports. Birmingham, Manchester, and Edinburgh have also proposed or undertaken expansion projects in recent years, with little regard for the feelings of local residents.

Whilst Manchester’s decision to destroy two listed buildings and build a hangar on a newt colony might have given eco-warriors something new to complain about, there is no denying that aggressive expansion by UK airports is eroding the public’s confidence in both the government and the aviation industry.

So, when Bristol Airport’s expansion plans were given the green light by local councillors, despite months of aggressive lobbying by concerned residents, Beautiful Britain magazine commissioned an unusual piece of art, designed to draw attention to a perceived lack of consultation on major construction projects.

Painted in a field beside the M5 motorway, Beautiful Britain sketched the outline of a 70m runway. The words, ‘Planning Approved,’ are stamped across the middle. The magazine had previously questioned thousands of its readers, and discovered that 80% of respondents wanted more ‘red tape’ to prevent new runways from appearing overnight, much like Beautiful Britain’s giant painting.

The mural was painted with biodegradable paint, naturally.

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According to the World Development Movement, a campaign group that seeks to eradicate world poverty, the volume of carbon dioxide produced by Bristol Airport in 2007 was equal to that produced by the entire nation of Malawi, Africa.

At the time, local councillors were unimpressed with the news, and Bristol Airport was forced to shelve its expansion plans for the next three years, until bosses found a way to deal with the smog that was clouding the terminal windows. The airport was finally granted a reprieve from its critics on the 10th March 2010, with a six-to-three vote in favour of the expansion.

Bristol councillors endured a three hour meeting on the 10th March, attended by more than one hundred people, both advocates and fierce opponents. The ultimate decision came as a blow for members of the Stop Bristol Airport Expansion group (SBAE), which had received over 1000 complaints about the expansion, and was hoping to block the plans forever.

The appropriate documents will now be passed to the local planning committee, the final page in Bristol’s great expansion odyssey. The airport hopes to boost passenger numbers to 10m people a year, but eco-warriors continue to fight for a cap at 8m. The SBAE website claims that any expansion at all will lead to a “wanton increase in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Airport bosses have countered the figures with some of their own: 3000 direct jobs and a £200m boost to the local economy. The expansion will include a new car park, modifications to the existing terminal, and a complete rebranding of the airport’s public image.

Bristol Airport has already dropped the word ‘international’ from its name, as the need to emphasise its global connections becomes less important.

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Bristol Airport bus service gets £2 million boost

Bristol Airport has announced that the bus service linking the airport to the city centre is to undergo a £2 million makeover. The complete overhaul of the bus service will improve transport links and bring greater accessibility to and from the airport.

The Flyer route operates between the airport and the city centre. 12 new buses will be added to the service, at a cost of £180,000 each, replacing the current nine that are in operation. The first six new buses are going to arrive this spring, with the rest following in 2011.

Bristol Airport has been criticised in the past for not having a rail link like most other airports. It is hoped that the new bus service will go some way towards making up for this and will show that the airport is doing all it can to improve its public transport network.

One of the main improvements the new bus service will bring is that buses will be leaving from the airport once every 10 minutes at peak times rather than once every 15 minutes. To ensure that as many people as possible can take advantage of the buses, they will stop at important locations such as Bristol Temple Meads Station.

The bus service is operated by First, with whom the airport has just renewed its partnership.

The commercial manager at Bristol Airport, Tom Hack, said that over half a million passengers used the bus service last year, and that the new service “will ensure inbound visitors receive a good first impression, and will provide an even more attractive alternative to the car for local travellers.”


Hotel for airport; jobs for Bristol

Pederson Airport Hotels is to build a new hotel at Bristol Airport, just 100m from the main terminal building. Costing £20m to complete, the hotel will incorporate meeting rooms, a bar and restaurant, and two hundred and fifty shiny new rooms.

Bristol is the largest international airport in the UK without a hotel to its name. Officials claim that the facility could generate twenty-five direct jobs at the airport, with tens more in the city centre.

An expansion of the airport’s terminal and improved transport links will also form part of the planning application, due to be submitted by April 2010. Officials hope to reduce the airport’s impact on the local environment by making it more convenient for flyers to leave their cars at home. On-site parking will also help to alleviate congestion in and around the airport site.

Bristol’s latest endeavour is designed to appeal to a particular audience – late and early arrivals too tired to stand up. Airline crew members will also spend time at the hotel during overnight stopovers.

Chief executive at Bristol, Robert Sinclair, was keen to boost the overall appeal of Bristol Airport. “The hotel will provide a much-needed service, for business passengers in particular, and will improve first impressions of the region for visitors.”

The hotel, which will be Pederson’s fourth in the Bristol area, will begin accepting bookings in 2012. A prominent service brand is expected to take over from the developer during the later stages of construction.

Despite the perceived benefits of an expansion to Bristol Airport, a number of local councils have objected to the scheme, claiming that the extra flights will cause significant damage to local eco-systems, and to the ears of nearby residents.


Bristol launches £1.2bn e-border

Bristol Airport has introduced automated security measures at its border controls, allowing passengers to scan their own passports, and helping police identify wanted crooks before they enter the country.

Costing £1.2bn to implement, the e-Border system scans the facial features of passengers, and then checks the data against their passport photo – however grim it may be.

The addition of fingerprint visas and ID cards, in tandem with e-Border, represents a major overhaul of airport security measures, the first of its kind in almost fifty years.

Bristol joins Stansted and Manchester airports as pioneers of self-scanning technology, but fingerprint visas have been a facet of airport terminals for a number of months. The UK Border Agency hopes that all UK sites will carry the technology before the end of the year.

UK border controls were tightened following the destruction of the World Trade Centre in September 2001 and the discovery of the transatlantic bomb plot five years later – an event that reached a crescendo at the beginning of the month.

Since then, passengers have had to endure lengthy queues, a ban on liquids, and gun-toting police officers stalking the terminals. All of that could change, however, if trials of a new liquid scanner prove successful.

The device, designed to detect flammable and explosive products, could save the Border Agency over £100m in extra surveillance systems. Used in conjunction with e-Border technology, UK airports could experience gentle security measures for the first time in a decade.

Critics have warned officials away from entrusting life and limb to robots and machines, but the ‘automatic airport’ is clearly a priority for the Border Agency.


Bristol City Council opposes airport expansion

The £150 million plans for the expansion of Bristol International Airport have not been backed by Bristol City Council. The Council, the original owners of the airport, have formally objected to North Somerset Council, the authority dealing with the planning application.

In a letter to the Head of Development Control at North Somerset on 18/08/09, Bristol City Council stated that their ‘position on the development proposals remained substantially unchanged’ from their original objections. These were raised after the publication of the Master Plan for the airport in 2006.

The plans will double the size of the terminal which was only opened in March 2000; there will be a five storey car park, a new runway apron and new passenger walkways. Passenger numbers are expected to rise from the current 6 million to 10 million by 2016 and to 12.5 million by 2030.

Bristol City Council recommends that the airport minimise the increase in noise the expansion will bring. It suggests that ‘the expansion is likely to work against the City Council’s aspirations for cleaner air in the city’. The Council is unclear how the proposal will reduce the airport’s target for carbon dioxide emissions but does back the increase in the Bristol Flyer coach service to Bristol.

The objection from Bristol City Council was submitted as part of the wider public consultation process which has now ended. The decision on the expansion plans will be taken by North Somerset Council at a date yet to be decided.