Airtask Group through it’s trading Company Directflight Limited, was established in 1983 and specialises in delivering bespoke flying tasks. We hold two Air Operator’s Certificates, one for Commercial Air Transport and one Public Transport with additional tasks also carried out under EASA Part SPO.
We currently operate eleven aircraft, ranging from the BAE 146-301 Atmospheric Research Aircraft G-LUXE through to a Diamond DA42. All of our operations can be termed ‘special mission’ due to either the tasks themselves or the natural environments in which we fly.
Airtask are based at Cranfield Airport about 40 miles north of London. We have fourteen staff at head office and we employ a further forty staff around the UK. Our regular flights are predominantly in and around Scottish waters but we also venture off around the world carrying out a range of other work.
Airborne Atmospheric Research
You may recall the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic ash disruption in 2010. The National Atmospheric Research Council (NERC) aircraft G-LUXE, operated by Airtask contributed greatly to the re-opening of the airspace across the Atlantic Ocean and NW Europe.
The aircraft is owned by NERC and managed by the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurement (FAAM) based at Cranfield Airport. FAAM is the result of a collaboration between the Met Office(TM) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and has been established as part of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) to provide an aircraft measurement platform for use by all the UK atmospheric research community on campaigns throughout the world. The modified BAe 146-301 large Atmospheric Research Aircraft (the ARA) is owned by the Natural Environment Research Council and, via a support contract with BAE Systems, operated for them by Airtask.
The aircraft can fly in many different types of configurations including:
• Radiative transfer studies in clear and cloudy air
• Tropospheric chemistry measurements
• Cloud physics and dynamic studies
• Dynamics of mesoscale weather systems
• Boundary layer and turbulence studies
• Remote sensing: verification of ground based instruments
• Satellite ground truth: radiometric measurements & winds
• Satellite instrument test-bed
Flying Campaigns are managed by FAAM working closely with the Airtask Operational Team who are embedded in a new purpose built facility where all flying is planned and co-ordinated. The Campaigns can be commissioned by worldwide research Universities and Agencies, with some projects taking three to five years from the planning stage to execution and evaluation of the data. Recent projects have included studying monsoon weather in India, the effects of clouds in the polar regions and Saharan desert dust deposits across the globe. This August the aircraft is planned to travel to the Ascension Islands to study the atmosphere between there and West Africa.
The aircraft can carry up to 100 scientific instruments internally with 18 scientists monitoring their own individual equipment. Externally approximately 40 instruments are used to gather information, these include probes beneath the wings to measure physical properties of the clouds, light sensors, a microwave radiometer, upward and downward facing cameras and lidar capabilities. The aircraft can also drop ‘dropsondes’ through the atmosphere to take measurements of atmospheric pressure, temperatures, humidity, windspeed and direction. Much of the data is processed whilst airborne and forwarded to the Met Office to help with weather forecasting.
G-LUXE is the original BAe 146 built in 1981. It is flown by highly experienced pilots and also carries a cabin crew member. The flying can be extremely demanding with tasks being carried out anywhere between 30,000 feet and 50 feet above sea level. Airtask work closely with FAAM and Avalon Aero Engineering Ltd to ensure the aircraft is in perfect condition for these very demanding tasks.
Airtask commenced fisheries patrols in 1991, at that time on behalf of the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency, and from 1998 for the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food. We have now amassed over 30,000 maritime patrol flying hours working for a number of UK Governmental Agencies on fisheries, environmental and enforcement patrols. Airtask continues to operate the Reims Cessna F406 maritime patrol aircraft to this day, with four specially modified aircraft on the fleet, two owned by the Scottish Government based in Inverness and two owned by the group based at Cranfield.
The two Inverness based aircraft patrol the Scottish fishing areas both responding to intelligence and proactively seeking out fishing vessels that are infringing fishing legislation. The Cranfield based aircraft fly under a Framework Agreement with the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). Under the Framework flights can be requested by a number of UK Agencies including Borders Agency and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in addition to the MMO. The crews, also based at Inverness and Cranfield, are highly trained and dedicated to the task. Patrols can take them over 200 miles offshore, flying from a number of regularly utilised airports, sometimes being away from base for several days at a time. All of our Observers have a military background and are highly attuned to detecting activity which requires reporting.
As a result of our experience in this area we were approached in 2016 by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office who were seeking assistance to evaluate a number of fishery patrol methods in the British Indian Ocean Territory. For this task our aircraft, aircrew and ground support team were based in Diego Garcia and flew over an eight week period. The trial proved extremely successful and we are very proud to have participated.
In flying the aircraft from the UK to Diego Garcia we gathered an exceptional amount of increased data on the aircraft capabilities in addition to the trial flights.
Range Clearance Services
The two Cranfield based Cessna F406 aircraft also support the Ministry of Defence with missile firing range clearance duties from Benbecula Island in the Hebrides as part of a long term contract with QinetiQ. Airtask’s role is to provide air cover and to coordinate with other ground and sea based assets searching vast maritime regions, ensuring it is safe to carry out the pre-planned missions in these areas. Reliability and operational planning is crucial on these tasks, not just as regards to safety but also to ensure these very expensive test projects do not get delayed or cancelled. Our highly trained pilots and observers prove their value time and again with rapid decision making and assessment of radar return images.
Airtask also acquired a Diamond DA42 in 2016. This aircraft is currently being used in conjunction with 3SDL to support British Army training in Kenya. The aircraft provides information to ground troops during their training phases.
The aircraft is also used to carry out flight calibration services at airports throughout the world, Latvia and Netherlands being the most recent tasks. A crew of two will fly pre-determined profiles testing and calibrating a range of airport navigation equipment.
Inter Island Air Services
Airtask operates two inter island air services, these services are provided as Public Service Obligations (PSO) contracts serving primarily the indigenous population of the remote islands whilst also supporting the tourism industry where both services are of great importance to the local sustainability and economy.
Both services utilize two Britten Norman BN2B Islander aircraft capable of carrying up to nine passengers. One operation is based at Tingwall Airport in the Shetland Isles, providing scheduled services to Foula, Fair Isle, Out Skerries and Papa Stour and the other at Oban, Argyll and Bute, serving Coll, Collonsay, Tiree and Islay. The bases are managed by permanently assigned Base Managers, customer services staff and pilots supported by local engineering staff also. The pilots are trained to extremely high standards with specific local familiarisation due to the unique characteristics of each of the remote destination airfields in served Islands. As with all of Airtask’s operations, safety is the main priority and the pilots regularly make crucial decisions regarding the hostile weather conditions that exist in these environments. Notwithstanding weather cancellations, Airtask have provided an extremely reliable service. This excellent reliability is based on the whole team pulling together, from pilots looking after the aircraft, skilled engineering and good operational planning. As well as scheduled services, the aircraft are also available for charter flights outside the scheduled timetables.
Whilst the Shetland services are operated by Airtask Group, previously under the Directflight branding the Oban services are provided by Hebridean Air Services. Hebridean Air Services were acquired by the Airtask Group in the summer of 2016 and has continued to thrive under the new ownership. The Hebridean team is now fully integrated into the Airtask Group utilising two assigned BN2B aircraft flying routes from Oban on the scheduled service.
As can be seen from the profile, Airtask have been successful with a diverse and complex range of operations for many years. The success is based upon professional staff with a desire to provide an excellent service throughout the company. Many of the management team, pilots and engineers are very experienced in working in harsh climates and testing conditions throughout the world, if there is a way of achieving a goal safely this team will endeavor to find it.
If you have a testing mission that you think Airtask could help you with, please contact us via our website.