London’s Battersea Heliport–now known as Barclays London Heliport following a sponsorship deal with the UK bank–is making the most of its unique position as London’s only heliport for the Olympic Games. It is situated on the Thames River opposite Chelsea, well west of the city and the Olympic Park, which is also close to the Thames. The heliport is expecting a high number of movements between mid-July and the closing ceremony in mid-August because it facilitates the fastest way to get to the Games: by helicopter from various London-area airfields and then by boat from the heliport (Oyster Pier) east to the Olympic Park.
The Reuben Brothers, who own London Oxford Airport, recently acquired the heliport from Premiair. James Dillon-Godfray, business development director for Oxford Airport and now the heliport as well, told reporters at a June 25 briefing, “We asked continuously from the outset for landing sites in close proximity to the Olympic Park. Security, ironically, has killed that plan.” The decision is ironic because in many ways it would be safer to fly VIPs and heads of state to the Games in helicopters than to have them stuck in traffic jams.
Heliport manager Simon Hutchins said that as of June 25 a significant number of slots (125) had been booked already and that the heliport is not slot coordinated. Forty airports in and around London will be subject to slot restrictions, compared with the usual four larger airports.
Eurocopter UK managing director Marcus Steinke described how his company has been helping its customers prepare for Olympic operations by ensuring that service and support will be in place. Eurocopter UK’s main base is at London Oxford Airport (a 25-minute flight from Barclays London Heliport) and its helicopters make up some 75 percent of the UK fleet. Much of the helicopter activity is centered on aerial filming of events; that activity was in full swing last month, providing coverage of the Olympic torch relay around the UK.
Michael Hampton, managing director of Capital Air Services, which has been based at Oxford Airport since 1994 (it also has bases at Cambridge and Manchester), said “there is nowhere to keep a helicopter in London so everyone is positioning in.” The London Heliport can park only a couple of helicopters at a time (depending on size) and the cost is high; the landing fee is approximately £750 ($1,125); parking costs that start at £300 ($450) are incurred after 15 minutes on the ground.
The heliport has introduced a 20-percent discount for the Olympic period. It is also offering incentives for 15-ton-plus business jets landing at Oxford; passengers who use a helicopter service into the London heliport will qualify for a 50-percent discount on landing fees at both locations (the Oxford jet fee is discounted by 25 percent if the jet’s mtow is less than 15 tons).
Hampton offered a scathing assessment of the Olympics as a business opportunity. “We’d hoped it would be a good time for us, but it’s not to be. We’re not allowed in the Prohibited Zone except to fly to and from Battersea, and we have still not been informed officially that we can do even that,” despite asking three-and-a-half years ago. He added that even for the outer zone, the Restricted Zone, “We have to give two hours notice, and it’s a big, big area.”
Steve Patterson, manager of Swanwick LTC (London Terminal Control) for NATS, said that 137 heads of state, of an expected total of approximately 150, have already confirmed that they will be attending the Games. Commenting on airspace changes, he said, “The scale of change is phenomenal for a short period of time. I’ve never seen anything like this before.” He added that there is “no problem at all with people getting in and out of Battersea with helicopters” but access is restricted to routes to the west, northwest and southwest. Routes to the east–reserved for the Olympic Broadcast Service, police, emergency operators and military, which has established a heliport at Greenwich–are effectively closed to traffic.