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London-Area Airports Ready for the Olympics

July 16, 2012

Years of planning by British civil aviation officials and airports, as well as business operators from around the world, are about to be put to the test with the 2012 Olympics opening on July 27.

For business operators headed to the games, that means airspace restrictions, slot allocations and an anticipated increase in air traffic during to and from the U.K. during July and August.

“There are several different elements to this, from aircraft parking to catering capacity, not to mention security,“ said Robert Walters, business development manager at London Biggin Hill Airport (EGKB). “The difficulty has always been that we will never know right up to the day how much traffic we might have, so we have to prepare for different scenarios.“

Biggin Hill and other airports surrounding London are bracing for a significant increase in the number of aircraft operations. National Air Traffic Services anticipates up to 3,000 additional business aircraft operations, 150 flights carrying heads of state, 700 additional charter flights and up to 1,500 helicopter operations related to the Olympic Games.

Officials at airports like Biggin Hill and Luton (EGGW) have beefed up facilities to help handle the expected capacity crowds and report that limited slots are still available.

“Some of our [Signature] key locations are at capacity, though we still have some room at our more remote locations,“ said Signature Flight Support Vice President and Managing Director Joe Gibney.

Asked whether Signature expected a capacity crowd, Gibney said, “Slots are filling quickly and operators are advised to book as soon as possible, given the airspace restrictions surrounding London.“

“We feel that last minute activity will be dictated by the level of success each of the Olympic teams achieves as the games proceed. But we do expect heightened activity closer to the opening ceremony on 27th July,“ Gibney said.

To accommodate the surge, Luton and Biggin Hill are among several airports where a slot allocation system will be in place from July 21 until Aug. 15. Slots can be obtained online.

Under the slot allocation program, all non-scheduled flights will need a reservation to operate at airports in the restricted zone or, closer in to the Olympic venue, the prohibited zone. While some aircraft operations will be allowed in the prohibited zone, they will involve only aircraft that have undergone crew, passenger and baggage screening in accordance with the relevant aviation security program, and are inbound to or outbound from Heathrow and London City RAF Northolt. They also will have to be under the control of those airports or NATS Terminal Control or Thames Radar.

Biggin Hill’s status has changed, according to Walters. This change in the restricted and prohibited zones is reflected in the latest advisories posted at www.olympics.airsafety.com, which now says, “Aircraft inbound to Biggin Hill using the instrument approach procedure to Runway 21 may transit the Prohibited Zone provided that they are in contact with NATS TC or Thames Radar and meet all the requirements to enter the Restricted Zone.“

Although slots are going quickly at Biggin Hill, Walters said there is still plenty of capacity there. “This will be a very busy period, but Biggin Hill has substantial parking availability and 21 slots an hour, so we need to be going some to max out,“ he explained.

While airports position themselves to handle the expected increase in operational tempo, FBOs such as Signature also are undertaking special measures to accommodate both aircraft operators and their passengers, including a dedicated 24-hour hotline and email address for customers.

One consideration specific to the games may be the amount of fuel operators need beyond the normal loading for flights to the U.K. from either Europe or North America.

“Make sure you research the changes to the airspace so that you are well equipped for any changes on the day,“ Walters warned. “Some airports have been given airspace changes that mean you may have up to 40 minutes more flight time.“

Walters offered one other suggestion for operators headed to the Olympic Games: “If possible, pick an airport that you do not need to reposition from, one that has plenty of space for long-term parking. Also, look for an airport that is not only close to London, but that has multiple routes and modes of transport access in case of disruptions in London.“