British Business Aviation Community Prepares for London Olympics

 - April 3, 2012, 1:20 AM

This summer’s London Olympics dominated the agenda at the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) annual conference on March 6, with the group’s patron, Prince Michael of Kent, reminding members that this is an opportunity for the industry to shine. While the high-security event poses plenty of challenges, it should provide a welcome boost to a largely service-based industry that generates almost $3.2 billion for the UK economy each year.

July 27, the day of the Olympic opening ceremony, is shaping up to be the busiest on record for the UK business aviation community, according to Paul Nickson of the London Olympics organizing committee. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is setting up a dedicated hub in the UK capital’s Canary Wharf building (near the main Olympic site) specifically to manage aviation operations during the event.

Nickson added that the slot-coordination team is still working on final plans for how to handle access to controlled airspace. He acknowledged that this planning has, to some extent, been hampered by late decision-making over who will be flying in for the games.

“The main government objectives are for high standards of safety and security,” Nickson told BBGA delegates. “We want to offer a positive visitor experience and limit disruption to business as much as possible. Aircraft parking and runway constraints are likely to be the biggest problems.”

The CAA expects to provide further details next month on how the temporary controlled airspace will be managed. “If you need operating permits, we expect to receive a significant increase in our workload over next few months so please give as much notice as possible,” advised Nickson.

Lee Campbell from Airport Coordination, the airline-controlled company that manages slot allocation for the main airports, underscored this point. He said that between July 21 and August 15 no IFR arrivals or departures into or out of London’s terminal maneuvering areas (TMAs) will be permitted without a booked slot. The zone covers 40 airports and will affect large areas of controlled airspace over southeast England.

There is no exemption to this rule, which applies even to head-of-state flights. Operators also need to acquire airport slots, and their flight plans could be suspended if there is any discrepancy between what was filed originally and the final flight plan.

Brendan Kelly, from air traffic management provider NATS, explained the diversion recommendations for the Olympic period. “We want to avoid the situation where business aviation flights going to Farnborough, for example, come close to the Heathrow TMA,” he said.

Airports will also have limits on the number of flights they can accommodate. CAA official Dawn Lindsey said that airports can essentially use their allotted capacity as they wish, subject to “a separate raft of restrictions and requirements for airports in the restricted airspace.”

Security Concerns

BBGA’s new chief executive, Marc Bailey, is pressing the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) to allow greater flexibility in the way some business and general aviation flights are governed by Europe’s EC300 security rules. These came into force under UK law at the end of April 2010, with the British government applying its right to bolster them with so-called “more stringent measures” through its National Aviation Security Program. In practice, the association has argued, this is causing confusion, especially when the rules are applied to operators from other European Union countries, where EC300 is applied differently.

Mike Woodall, DfT’s head of aviation security regulation, told the BBGA conference that the industry can apply alternative security measures, but only at airports that have established specially demarcated areas in which these revised rules for flights constituting a lower risk can be applied.

Separately, BBGA is also trying to persuade the UK government to change the basis on which airline passenger duty is to be applied to commercial business aircraft flights beginning in April next year. It wants to see the new charges calculated according to aircraft weight, rather than on a per-passenger basis.

Finally, John Chudley from the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills urged business aviation firms to recruit apprentices to build the industry’s skills base in line with wider government plans to boost apprenticeships. BBGA patron Prince Michael endorsed the message. “Training is not something we can rely on someone else to do,” he warned. “Every organization must play its part. It is vital that this drive for trained staff is fully integrated into our regional and national framework.”

According to the European Business Aviation Association, there are now some 4,266 business aircraft based in Europe (2,987 jets and 1,279 turboprops) and some 570 operators. Last year, total business aviation movements were 654,514, accounting for 7.2 percent of air traffic in the European Union.