London Copes With Olympics Rush But Traffic Less Than Expected

Aviation International News » September 2012
A crowd of aircraft parked at London Biggin Hill Airport.
A crowd of aircraft parked at London Biggin Hill Airport.
September 3, 2012, 1:40 AM

Despite dire warnings about the consequences of restricted access to UK airspace and airports, overall business aviation’s part in London’s Olympic Games seems to have gone smoothly. In fact, those dire predictions proved overstated, and the event appears not to have resulted in as much of a boost to the industry as it might have expected.

Some in the UK bizav sector suggested that strong warnings about possible inconvenience might have deterred some corporate traffic from making trips during the period of the games. This is hard to prove but it is the case that significant numbers of corporate seats were empty during early Olympic events.

Generally the 40 slot-coordinated airports did not have capacity problems and few aircraft even had to hold in the planned temporary holding patterns. Olympic airspace restrictions started on July 21, with the airspace returning to near normal in mid-August. The Paralympic Games started late last month, with far fewer restrictive temporary measures, focused mainly around London City Airport, which is close to the Olympic Park, and some out-of-London venues.

According to slot coordinator Airport Coordination (ACL) approximately 8,000 business aviation slots had been booked by the end of the games. “No one airport is full, but some are busier than others, notably Farnborough and Biggin Hill,” said an ACL spokesperson during the event.

Jet booking service Privatefly said that airports did have spare capacity during the games although it saw a 40-percent increase in bookings, mostly “as a result of Londoners trying to escape. Despite predictions of a significant increase in private jet movements, overall industry traffic levels were around 25 percent down on what was predicted,” reported the UK-based company.

Airports See Significant Peaks

It appears that overall air traffic services provider NATS and the UK Civil Aviation Authority predicted volumes accurately with almost 10,000 IFR GA and bizav movements, approximately 3,000 more than would be expected normally at that time of year.

According to Oxford Airport, the main Olympics impact came before the event, which started on July 27. “We saw a notable increase in heavy metal coming through us in those two weeks, 50-plus slots versus 18 last year over the same period, representing a 180-percent increase, and we sold 40 percent more fuel,” reported the airport.

London Biggin Hill Airport’s business development manager, Robert Walters, told AIN that the airport had “handled a significantly higher profile of larger jets and some demanding peaks.” Highlights included a total of 1,300 slots at the airport during the main Olympic period. This represented a 12.5-percent increase over July last year.

“Corporate traffic included several BBJs, many Global Expresses and Gulfstreams in a varied mix of business aircraft,” said Walters. The peak movement period for Biggin was July 26 to 29, and the peak daily number of corporate jets parked was 80.

The airport, along with FBO partners Jet Aviation and Rizon Jet, ensured that “the handling arrangements were seamlessly managed for customers,” said Walters. Some 12 percent of the visitor total was new to Biggin Hill, reflecting a positive effect for business aviation airports around London.

Walters concluded, “The logistics required for the London Games has brought us extended capabilities and new ideas. Our task now is to build on that legacy.”

Halfway through the games, London Luton Airport confirmed to AIN that the total number of executive jet movements for the Olympic period to date was 1,845, with the expectation of 2,400 by the end.

Nearby Stansted Airport saw a last-minute surge in world leaders, VIPs and celebrities arriving ahead of the Olympics opening ceremony on July 27. Stansted beat its own record for the largest number of private jets parked overnight with 165 aircraft.

Stansted “had an extremely busy day on Friday [July 27] with scores of private jets flying in world leaders and the rich and famous attending the opening ceremony,” commented head of airside operations Trevor Waldock. “Delegations from Germany, Italy, the U.S., Albania, Qatar, Armenia, Slovak Republic, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Serbia, Kazakhstan and Russia were all looked after by the airport’s private aviation specialists.” Stansted has three established FBOs: Harrods Aviation, Universal Aviation and Inflite, while Aero Toy Store opened a base there earlier this year.

At he London Heliport, traffic was up 63 percent over the same period last year. However, the privately owned facility saw a negligible boost in shuttle flights bringing passengers into the city center from private fixed-wing flights.

Finally, TAG Farnborough Airport director of operations Roger Walker reported that the dedicated bizav gateway had been busy, and especially with flights carrying heads of state and members of the International Olympics Committee. “The service has been seamless with many positive comments received from our VIPs,” he told AIN. “We have been planning for the Olympics for more than 18 months and our new infrastructure, including hangars, apron and arrivals lounge, has been well received.”

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