EBACE Convention News

UK slots for Olympics will go fast

 - May 17, 2011, 8:20 PM

Business aircraft operators planning to fly to Britain for next summer’s Olympic Games are being encouraged to make early requests for mandatory landing and takeoff slots at airports in what will be heavily restricted airspace in the southeast of England. Britain’s Department for Transport (DfT) has said that for 31 days from July 16, 2012, private or chartered aircraft will present a challenge to airport capacity across the region, which lies under one of the world’s most crowded areas of airspace.

Accordingly, coordination of all airport runway slots in the region is seen as the only way to manage the expected levels of traffic without the danger of demand “bunching,” says a 186-page report by consultants Atkins for the DfT (Air Traffic Review and Airport Capacity Assessment associated with the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics). “Without control of the arrival and departure profile of flights, severe bottlenecks may appear, generating delays for all flights, [and] potentially impacting the wider European central-flow management operation.”

New measures have been proposed to control the flow of traffic for capacity and security reasons. London Heathrow, the world’s busiest international airport, has already been declared out of bounds to nonscheduled movements, including aircraft carrying heads of state. More than a year ahead of the event, expected airport capacity requirements for this traffic so exceeds supply in the region that parking space for 17 heads of state has not been found. Nevertheless, Atkins reports that available aircraft parking capacity has been able to accommodate the vast majority of demand.

Proposals for temporary changes to controlled airspace to enhance management of increased traffic expected in five areas over southern and eastern England are open for public comment until this May 26. “Over the Olympic period, forecast demand in the region will be significantly higher than the available capacity,” predicts a 46-page DfT document outlining the plans (Proposals to Establish Temporary Controlled Airspace for the London 2012 Olympics stakeholders consultation).

The temporary airspace proposals cover two holding points east of London and the skies around Boscombe Down, Bournemouth, Farnborough, Southend and Southampton, plus a contingency hold area over East Anglia serving Cambridge, Cranfield, Duxford and Luton. Around Farnborough and Southend airports, especially, traffic levels are expected to exceed currently available peak-period capacity and, without temporarily modified airspace, could result in widespread delays, says the DfT.

Altogether, the DfT has identified almost 30 airfields and airports (including some in the west of England) that lie within an approximate 120-minute road- or rail-journey time of the main Olympic Games site in east London and which have capacity for additional private or nonscheduled commercial aircraft. “Slots at peak times are expected to be in heavy demand,” predicts theDfT. “Early contact [with airports] is recommended, especially for those with particular needs or preferences for location, types of aircraft, or timings.”

Fourteen principal airports have been allocated specific numbers of additional Olympic-related movements (beyond their usual traffic levels), including provision for more than 3,000 general aviation (GA) arrivals and departures (see charts).

The UK National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which is coordinating the public consultation, proposes the introduction of recommended helicopter routes between London and the Olympic sailing center at Weymouth and Portland, both to the west of Southampton on the English Channel. The DfT says there will be limited possibility for helicopter transfer flights to and from central London during the Olympic period.

NATS says any previously unconsidered matters raised by public feedback may lead to modified proposals and further consultation before the plan is presented to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which regulates UK airspace. NATS and the CAA have agreed that the “exceptional circumstances” and temporary nature of proposed airspace changes mean the plan does not need consultation with environmental “stakeholders.”

Numbers of additional GA movements allocated to the 14 airfields range from nearly 670 slots at Biggin Hill, more than 500 each at Cambridge and Southend, and 340 at Stansted, to just eight at the small London City docklands airport. In addition, Stansted and Luton airports together are expected to handle 130 Olympics-generated positioning flights. There is no provision for extra GA movements at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick hubs, nor at the regional airports at Bournemouth and Manston, or at the Northolt military air base.

More than 200 head-of-state aircraft movements and attendant security requirements have been shared among eight of the airports, but 34 such movements–involving aircraft of Boeing 767 to 747 size–have not been placed. The Atkins team has predicted that “only 17 aircraft over the whole Olympic period cannot be allocated a stand within the current modelled airport system.”

The greatest number of additional movements–driven largely by GA and head of state requirements–will occur on July 26, the day before the Olympics opening ceremony, with July 27 seeing the greatest demand for aircraft parking. Including normal levels of traffic, the 14 airports are expected to handle more than 110,000 movements during the 31-day Olympics peak period.