London Heliport increases landing fees

 - July 5, 2007, 5:38 AM

A new scale of landing charges introduced at the beginning of April for users of London Heliport is aimed at containing demand for the riverside facility, which has an annual limit of 12,000 movements–effectively 6,000 landings–as well as helping its new owner recoup a “considerable” investment in the site.

Luxury hotel operator von Essen Group bought the heliport in February, partly to safeguard its operation and partly to build a new hotel on an adjacent site. In March it acquired the heliport’s operator, PremiAir, which already operated von Essen’s fleet of business jets and helicopters.

PremiAir’s operations director, Christopher Forrest, said last month that with the growing popularity of business aviation over the last two years, the heliport is reaching its movements limit. The new scale of charges levies a flat rate of £450 ($890) on all but the biggest helicopters, for which the fee is £1,000 ($1,970). Previously the fees varied according to weight, so that a Robinson R44, for example, paid a more modest £280 ($550).

The heliport is also encouraging operators to park their helicopters rather than leave and return, Forrest said. It has towbars and tractors for wheeled helicopters and has bought a ground handling trolley to move skidded aircraft into the limited parking area.

Outcome Uncertain
The new prices had no apparent impact in April, he said, but traffic in May was down 7.5 percent from the same month last year. Even so, overall traffic for the first five months of this year was up 13 percent. The Royal Ascot horse race meeting and the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone, events that generate additional traffic, were expected to be a test of the effect of the new charges.

“We’re waiting to see whether the April price rises will have any effect on the traffic for June,” Forrest said. “If not, we will have to consider other means of capping the movements. That might ultimately mean some form of rationing, which we don’t particularly want to do.”

The Farnborough International Air Show is also responsible for an increase in traffic every other July, although flights to and from that event, along with movements by military and emergency services helicopters, are not counted in the total. Last year the heliport saw around 14,000 movements.

There is little prospect of increasing the number of movements, Forrest said, but the heliport, in conjunction with the British Helicopter Advisory Board, is trying to encourage operators to “fly neighborly” and manufacturers to make their machines quieter. So far, only Eurocopter appears to be responding to this challenge, Forrest said. “Its new generation of aircraft is considerably quieter than those it manufactured previously, and it is quieter than the majority that other manufacturers are producing at the moment.”

He would also like to see fewer military helicopters using the helicopter route along the Thames through central London.

“Business aviation has got to continue and it is growing,” Forrest added. “One mustn’t lose sight of the fact that major wealth generators may well use helicopters because access to the center of London from outside is appalling. If you’ve flown across the Atlantic you’re not going to waste an hour-and-a-half going from Luton to the center of London when a helicopter takes 15 minutes.”