As part of the UK Government’s commitment to “deliver a safe and secure 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games” a giant Restricted and Prohibited Fly Zone that will be imposed over London and the South East is causing business aviation planners sleepless nights.
Airport operators caught up in the zones are trying to work out how it will affect them as they try to keep their “business as usual” signs nailed to the gate. The restrictions will be in place for what most operators regard as an overlong period from July 13 to Sept. 12, 2012.
The Restricted Zone stretches far beyond London-Heathrow in the west to way out into the Thames Estuary to the east, while to north and south it extends nearly as far as Cambridge and almost to the South Coast. The Olympic Stadium and other venues are doubly protected by their Prohibited Airspace Zone (within the already Restricted Zone) which covers a large part of London and its suburbs.
(LCY) is in the middle of a triangle of three venues, the Olympic Stadium and the XL and O2 arenas. Gary Hodgetts, director of operations policy and planning, says current climbout procedures take traffic directly over the Olympic Stadium, and hinted that new procedures are a possible but difficult option. Closure of LCY, particularly during the opening and closing ceremonies, is a possibility.
So how are business jets and VIP helicopters going to operate into, out of, and through the new zones?
Jason Hayward, general manager at London-Stansted’s Universal Aviation, says, “As we understand it, Airport Coordination Ltd (ACL), which is responsible for slot allocation at 26 airports in the UK and the EU, is extending (runway slots) cover to more airports during the Olympic airspace restrictions, and will include Farnborough and Biggin Hill for the first time.
“ACL is putting a program in place to link flight plans with runway slots, and if the flight plan doesn’t match the slot then it might get automatically cancelled,” says Hayward. South East England airspace is going to be under increased pressure, as is runway capacity. Hayward says because of overflight issues during the London Games, and particularly during the opening and closing ceremonies, there could be temporary airport closures. “It’s going to be first-come, first-served for (runway) slots, which will be bookable from this November, so book early and get a slot.”
Helicopter operators were confident that the 2012 London Olympics would bring boom times as they whisked VIPs across the city. It isn’t going to happen. Ideas such as using the’s recently decommissioned aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal as a floating heliport came to nought, so there will be no civil heliport facilities anywhere near the Olympic Park.
David McRobert, CEO of PremiAir (VIP helicopter operators and owners of the riverside London Heliport (Battersea), said, “The best we can hope for is to get people in and out of London via the London Heliport.” He had hoped that a river shuttle from the heliport to the Olympic site would be in operation but this is far from certain. “From an industry point of view the Olympics are going to be a big disappointment, and we’ll have to maximize on what we’ve got.”
The latest rumor is that Damyns Hall, a small VFR airfield to the east of the Olympic Park, is being eyed as a temporary heliport, but it is inside the Prohibited Zone. All passengers flying into the zones have to be screened, which is not easy from unsophisticated sites.
Michael Hampton, managing director of executive helicopter operator Capital Air Services, says, “The Home Office is driving this, and it’s all to do with security. It’s meant to give the authorities 20 minutes warning of people straying into the zones. We will have to file a flight plan a minimum of two hours beforehand and that’s not good news as much of our work is done at the last minute.”
A plan being worked out through the British Helicopter Association and other organizations suggests pre-registering pilot, aircraft and operator callsign, or alternatively a National Air Traffic Services callsign. “We can then pre-register known routes across London to known locations. The authorities have got time to deliver on this,” said Hampton, “but financial constraints and suitable software to deliver it still have to be found.”
“When the London Olympic bid was originally being compiled we were advised that London City would be closed for the duration of the games but there would be compensation. Just think, we could’ve resurfaced the runway in that time!” joked LCY’s Hodgetts.