Von Essen Hotels is investing approximately $15 million over the next 12 months to revamp the London Heliport, which it acquired earlier this year. The improvements include a re-worked ramp space, new fuel installations, upgraded control tower, new firefighting facilities, VIP departure lounges, access to adjoining hotel facilities and enlarged customer car parking.
The company is making these improvements despite the current cap of 12,000 combined takeoffs and landings at the heliport. However, it is hoping that the number of movements allowed will be increased.
“It is a huge investment,” said David McRobert, group managing director for PremiAir, the company von Essen chose to manage the heliport. “It would be sad if the 12,000-movements limit actually remained in place, because clearly we aim not only to realize a return on investment, but also to carry on investing in the heliport to provide the UK business aviation community with the sort of facilities it deserves.
“Given London’s status as the financial capital of the world, and with the Olympic Games approaching, it does not seem realistic to restrict the number of landings to 6,000 per year, and we would like to see that increased,” he added.
For the time being, however, to balance demand with availability, London Heliport has introduced a slot-allocation process. “This is on a first-come first-served basis, and all the operators around the country, including PremiAir, are required to call the heliport in the normal way to book a slot,” noted McRobert.
It will be difficult for the operator to judge heliport usage this year compared to last year because the new landing-fee schedule was not implemented until May 1 last year. “But at the moment, and with the credit crunch and recessionary factors…we think that the demand for the heliport will still be pretty intense through 2008.”
No doubt also mindful of general public concerns about inner-city noise levels attributable to increasing numbers of low-flying helicopters, PremiAir and the London Heliport endorse recent recommendations issued by the British Helicopter Advisory Board’s (BHAB) noise action group. The group’s mission is to consider all possible strategies to reduce helicopter noise and promote a greater acceptance of the helicopter as a public service and business tool by authorities and the general public.
These recommendations include adoption of the Helicopter Association International’s (HAI) noise-abatement training program; a voluntary 10-knot reduction in cruise IAS over all residential areas; steep approach and departure profiles wherever possible; minimizing ground running to less than five minutes typically; avoiding turns below 1,000 feet at the London Heliport, and then only over the Thames River. In addition, BHAB concurs with plans to encourage manufacturers to accelerate “quiet technologies” and to achieve a voluntary noise limit for rotorcraft to be implemented by 2020 or sooner.
“Universal support of this program to reduce helicopter noise is fundamental if our industry is to continue to conduct and develop operations in both rural and urban areas in the face of public unease,” Peter Norton, BHAB’s chief executive, told AIN.
“One of the points we have emphasized from the BHAB is that if helicopters slow down by 10 knots from the normal cruising speed, it does make a significant noise difference,” explained Christopher Forrest, PremiAir’s group operations director. “Of course, time is money, but to spend one minute when you can actually reduce the potential [annoyance] of this noise element is worth pursuing, and it is something we are selling from BHAB right now.”