Future of charity operating last Vulcan up in air over cash crisis

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ENGINEERS and fundraisers who spent years restoring the last Vulcan bomber to flight have been told they are facing redundancy as a chronic cash shortage threatens the future of the charity which runs the aircraft.

The Vulcan to the Sky Trust, which last year relocated to Robin Hood Airport, near Doncaster, is completely reliant on public donations to keep the Cold War icon airborne, and has suffered in the economic downturn.

The Vulcan bomber arriving at at Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster

The Vulcan bomber arriving at at Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster

Its board of trustees, which includes Defence Minister Gerald Howarth, had hoped to stave off the crisis, but has now decided that without £100,000, the trust will wind up at the end of this month.

This means that all 28 of the trust’s staff will be put on notice, and work on the ongoing winter service could stop, with the emphasis moving to preparing the aircraft for long-term storage.

Dr Robert Pleming, Vulcan to the Sky’s chief executive, revealed the situation to the Yorkshire Post yesterday and said it was made more disappointing for staff because 2012 marked the 60th anniversary of the first Vulcan flight.

It is hoped to tie that milestone in with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, with the trust’s Vulcan XH558 taking part in an official flypast over the capital this summer.

Dr Pleming said: “With many savings being made internally and the growing capability of our in-house engineering team, combined with steeply rising revenue from trading activities, our dependence on public donations reduces every year.

“This year we need only one third of our 2009 fund-raising target – but without this money, she may never fly again for the people of Great Britain.”

Dr Pleming said that if the plane was placed in storage, it may be “prohibitively expensive” to recover, placing more urgency on keeping it in the sky for at least one more flying season.

He added that even if the £100,000 target was reached by February 29, the trust must raise an additional £200,000 by the end of April at the latest.

“This will allow the service to remain on-schedule and give us sufficient funding to reach the display season, when our commercial income will increase dramatically,” said Dr. Pleming.

“We have a vast range of fantastic plans to fly this remarkable aircraft – appropriately named The Spirit of Great Britain – at so many outstanding events. We have to do everything we can to reach the 2012 celebrations.”

The Vulcan’s current chief pilot Sqn Ldr Martin Withers said 2012 also marked the 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict, which saw him win a Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in a Vulcan mission over the islands.

He said the aircraft, which was originally built to carry the country’s nuclear deterrent, was vital for education and added: “Part of our mission is to ensure that young people learn about the knife-edge fear of the Cold War.

“If I had been ordered to press the button that released the nuclear payload over the enemy, there would almost certainly have been no Britain left to fly home to.”

Several fund-raising initiatives are already under way, including the Salute To Her Majesty, which aims to get individuals and businesses to sign a specially-produced book which will fly in the aircraft during the 2012 season.

But in a letter to supporters released yesterday, the board of trustees stressed the reality of the financial situation and warned that XH558 may never get to realise the Diamond Jubilee dream.

The letter said: “The board believes that the trust has a hugely positive story to tell this year. The country will see the the Falklands 30th anniversary, Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee, the Vulcan’s 60th and many other events.

“XH558 has the opportunity to share in these occasions, and a role to make them even more memorable.

“The board therefore believes that it really must find the money to fulfil XH558’s potential this year – we must not fail at this critical moment.”