Business aviation operators lobby to relax strict Olympic airspace restrictions for London 2012

London
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Next year's Olympics should be a bonanza for business aviation as thousands of the world's rich and powerful descend on London. However, many fixed-wing and helicopter charter operators worry that proposed strict restrictions on the capital's airspace will make it virtually impossible to run viable services.

Operators are pinning their hopes on persuading the Department for Transport and Home Office - which has responsibility for security - to relax the scheme. It will see a 40 x 20nm (75 x 40km) prohibited zone, centred on the Olympic stadium, and a larger restricted zone imposed from 13 July to 12 September.

Every flight within the restricted zone will have to have its flightplan pre-cleared, something operators believe will cause huge delays. The intention is to thin out airspace to make it easier for air traffic controllers to detect any airborne threat.

Speaking at an operators' pre-EBACE briefing at Oxford airport, Patrick Margetson-Rushmore, chief executive of London Executive Aviation, described the Olympics as a "boon and crucible for business aviation" that could see operators missing out on one of the biggest opportunities of the decade if the restrictions as they stand are strictly applied.

David McRobert, group managing director of Oxford-based PremiAir, which manages the London heliport in Battersea, says the company has had "encouraging meetings" with civil servants. "We think they better understand now the needs of the executive helicopter market. They have taken on board our concerns about the onerous requirements for flight plans."

Michael Hampton, managing director of fellow helicopter specialist Capital Air Services, is proposing that ahead of the games known operators should be allowed to register with the authorities aircraft, pilots and known routes to avoid flightplans having to be submitted each time.

"I am sure in a very British way, we'll get it together on the day," he says. "It is up to us [the business aviation community] to do something about it and ensure there is a way forward."

Under the plans, no VIP helicopter flights will be permitted in the vicinity of the stadium itself, so even heads of state will have to make the 15km (9 miles) journey from central London by ground transport.