London Could See Last-minute Rush for Olympic Slots

 - July 2, 2012, 5:55 AM
The Olympic Stadium in East London will serve as centerpeice for the Games this summer.

Southeast England is going to be a busy place from the middle of July to mid-August as visitors and competitors converge on London for the 2012 Olympic Games, and planning earlier than usual is going to be the key for business aviation operators hoping to get in and out of London-area airports, although they could still face delays.

Handling the additional influx of aircraft–particularly business jets from the U.S. and elsewhere–poses a challenge for British organizers, especially around key dates, starting with the opening of the Olympic Village on July 13. The busiest days are expected to be July 24-25 and July 29, before and after the July 27 opening ceremony, and around the August 12 closing ceremony. In addition, particular attention is being paid to points such as the Men’s 100-meter Final (August 4 arrivals) and the period when visitors will be departing, August 13 to 16.

For NATS, the UK’s air navigation service provider, the challenge will be the volume of air traffic: flights for 500,000 visitors; 150 head-of-state flights; 700 additional commercial/charter flights; 3,000 additional business jet movements; and 1,500 helicopter movements into London per day, according to Paul Haskins, general manager of NATS. He told reporters recently that NATS has spent “a lot of time talking to the owners of business jets” to urge them to apply early for a slot through Heathrow-based Airport Coordination Ltd (ACL) and to plan carefully for contingencies.

Airspace Restrictions

With this large increase in activity many airports around London other than the main ones used by airlines (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and London City airports) will also be subject to centralized slot coordination from July 21 to August 15, for all arriving and departing IFR traffic. These include Biggin Hill, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Cambridge, Cranfield, Farnborough, Oxford, Luton, Lydd and Manston.

NATS is coordinating Temporary Controlled Airspace (CAS[T]) which will be in place from July 14 to August 15, including establishing five additional holding patterns for contingencies (any disruption such as weather, a terrorist scare, even a volcanic eruption in Iceland during the busiest times). The focus for information relating to any such event is Eurocontrol’s Network Operations Portal (NOP), on the Central Flow Management Unit’s website (https://www.public.cfmu.eurocontrol.int).

A chart of the CAS(T) and other airspace restrictions from July 14 to August 15, and the lesser restrictions that will be in place for the Paralympic Games from August 16 to September 12, is available at www.airspacesafety.com/olympics.

At the core of the Olympic airspace is a Prohibited Zone, while there is a Restricted Zone as well. This will be of concern mainly to VFR traffic, which has to file flight plans when any part of the flight is within the Restricted Zone, and call Atlas Control, a group of six RAF controllers operating from Swanwick and handling nothing but traffic in Olympic airspace. VFR pilots will have to give their unique code to the controllers and will be given an SSR transponder code to squawk.

Overall organization of airports and airspace for the Olympics is being coordinated through an “axis” through which all the various air traffic control centers and FMPs meet regularly to pre-validate airspace data changes and agree operating procedures. According to Eurocontrol’s website, “the event is being prepared and monitored under close coordination by NM [Eurocontrol, as network manager], UK NATS, the UK CAA and Department of Transport and…ACL.”

The Single Coordination Committee, set up especially for the Olympic period, made a capacity declaration for all the additional coordinated airports.

Anecdotal evidence suggests there has not been a rush to book yet, and in fact some smaller airports have only a handful of bookings so far from business aviation operators. George Galanopoulos, managing director of London Executive Aviation (LEA), told AIN that, six weeks ahead of the Games, LEA had not received any bookings, adding that the situation is not unusual for the charter business, and that other charter companies have been reporting similar situations. He expressed concern that slots could end up in short supply, however, in particular for those looking to get away from London. “It’s a busy time of year anyway and people will be looking to go away, which is where there may be a problem with slots,” said Galanopoulos. “Also, you may have to wait somewhere overseas longer before you can get a slot,” On airspace restrictions, he said, “We always fly on a flight plan anyway” and he has not heard talk of any problems so far. “It has been well organized,” he concluded.

Airlines attempted to obtain ATC priority over business and charter aircraft but NATS refused this, on the grounds that it is not permitted to allocate priorities and has to treat all users equally, except in emergency situations. The UK CAA was not willing to change secondary legislation temporarily either.

Special procedures will apply to police, emergency medical, essential survey and aircraft operating for the Olympic Broadcast Service into the Prohibited Zone. For interception purposes four Typhoon fighters will be on “quick-reaction alert” at Northolt Airport, to the north of Heathrow, which is also the main airport for heads of state. They–along with three Sea King helicopters–will police the Restricted Zone, equipped with “follow me” boards for intercepting off-course aircraft.

Other restricted areas will apply as sporting events occur and will be promulgated by Notam. For example, CAS(T) has been planned for July 14 to September 8 for the sailing Olympic village at Weymouth, affecting Bournemouth Airport.

It is worth mentioning in closing perhaps that the biggest obstacle facing visitors to London could be ground transportation, because the city will be far busier than usual. Congestion is likely to be a feature, and although the Games organizers and London Mayor Boris Johnson are putting a brave face on it, the likelihood is that many visitors will have little hassle with air transportation but face sitting in long queues on the road. Meanwhile, helicopter service will be severely limited, London having just one commercial heliport at Battersea, beside the Thames some way west of the Olympic site (which is on the East side of London, near London City Airport). London City does not have a heliport and there is no commercial heliport in East London, which perhaps explains why Oxford Airport owners the Reuben Brothers recently seized the opportunity to buy Battersea Heliport.

Don’t Delay Booking London Slots!

The Single Coordination Committee, set up especially for the duration of the Olympics, has provided details about booking slots during the period.

1. Review slot availability of the airport online at www.online-coordination.com

2. Contact the airport/handling agent as appropriate.

3. Airport uses www.online-coordination.com website to obtain slots.

4. For general and business aviation the airport receives back a unique ID for use with confirmed slots. The slot ID is entered by operator in Field 18 of the flight plan, with the prefix RMK/ASL (for example, RMK/ASLGBXXAPVT554300).

5. For operations to the airfields listed here, the flight plan must include the address EGGOLYMI: Biggin Hill, Blackbushe, Damyns Hall, Denham, Duxford, Elstree, Fairoaks, Farnborough, North Weald, Redhill, Rochester, Stapleford, White Waltham, Wycombe Air Park. (Some of these are primarily fixed-wing general aviation airfields but are often home to commercial helicopter operators.)