IN FOCUS: How London is handling Olympic Games business traffic

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Corporate or private aircraft taking passengers to the Olympic Games will be accepted into UK airspace only they have obtained an airspace slot-allocation reference and appended it to their flight plan.

If their destination or approach path is in the so-called prohibited zone (see diagram below), they must also depart from an airport that has approved security arrangements.

Flight plans are filed as normal, but the slot allocation has to be obtained in advance through the destination airport, and numbers are limited. When slots run out, the no-entry signs go up.

embraer 135 @ london biggin hill airport, london biggin hill airport

 © London Biggin Hill Airport

Slot bookings are rolling in at Biggin Hill

Because about 3,000 extra business aircraft flights are expected to head for southeast England during the Olympics, according to the UK Civil Aviation Authority, airspace capacity is going to be saturated.

The operators of these aircraft will need to book a slot to enter the wide area of restricted airspace that will apply from 14 July to 15 August, but the CAA says few have done so yet.

About 150 private flights will be carrying heads of state, the CAA estimates, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has warned them that because the Games is not a state occasion, their flight movements will receive no privileges, and general aviation (non-airline) arrivals at Heathrow have been banned. The airlines are expected to carry an additional 500,000 visitors to Britain, so main airports will be particularly busy.

The slot-allocation system has been set up for the Olympics to ensure air traffic management capacity is sufficient to meet demand, and in the south eastern area controlled airspace has been extended quite considerably on a temporary basis, so visual flight rules general aviation operations are affected significantly. Airspace is the most limited resource, according to the authority, although aircraft parking space at some popular business aviation destination airfields may be insufficient to meet demand.

PLAYING THE SLOTS

The CAA says: "If everybody leaves [slot booking] up to the last minute, it does not make any difference to the aviation system," explaining that when all the slots available on a particular day are gone, additional operations will be refused entry or offered a different date.

Slots, as normal in the UK, will be managed by Airport Coordination (ACL), but slot applications should be made through the intended destination airport. Southeastern UK airports have been provided with a slot allocation tailored to expected demand: London Oxford (Kidlington), for example, has been allocated six per hour from 14 July to 15 August - but is applying to have that number doubled.

Controlled airspace in the UK's southeast has been extended by the application of the Restricted and Prohibited Zones (see diagram), but also by the creation of temporary controlled airspace, particularly extending to the east and west of the London-centred zones. Routes into what might be familiar destination airports will also differ from normal, which may affect fuel planning. Air navigation service provider NATS has been tasked with re-designing routes in the southeastern airspace for Olympic security and airspace capacity reasons, and the new temporary controlled airspace extensions have been created specifically to cope with the anticipated business aircraft demand. It is designed to assist controllers in funnelling the aircraft into particularly popular business aviation hubs such as Farnborough and Biggin Hill.

General aviation movements, operating under visual flight rules, that want to go to, or operate from, an airfield within VFR sectors in the restricted zone will have to file a flight plan. Their flights will also be bound by special restrictions: they will need to have a transponder emitting an allocated code and to make radio contact with a lower airspace radar service operated by the Royal Air Force, callsigned Atlas North and Atlas South (see diagram).

Aircraft without prior clearance can expect rapid attention, up to and including interception by two fully armed RAF Typhoon fighters.

In terms of what London area business aircraft airports can expect, Biggin Hill airport business development manager Robert Walters says about 360 slots specific to Olympics attendance had already been booked as of 27 April, but he expects many more. This is over and above the airport's normal 1,200-1,800 business movements, with July always at the higher end of the range. The aircraft type breakdown among the slot applications so far are 12% Bombardier Challenger and Global Express, 14% Gulfstream, 16% Hawker and 25% Dassault. The remaining 33%, says Walters, is "made up of a mix of smaller types, and larger charter aircraft such as the ATR 42/72 and BAE Systems 146 series aircraft". Most are from Europe, but 14% are from across the Atlantic. Walters advises booking slots soon because "numbers are finite". The peak periods for operations are expected to be 25-29 July and 10-14 August.

olympic airspce restrictions

London Oxford says slot bookings so far are small, but wants its allocation of six slots an hour doubled to 12. Given that it normally handles an average of 20 business aircraft movements a day, this gives a measure of how much extra traffic it is expecting during the Olympic period.

SHORT NOTICE

All London area airports say they expect most slot bookings to come in nearer the time, so some customers are likely to be disappointed. Oxford's business development manager James Dillon-Godfray says the expected booking pattern is that applications for Farnborough, Luton and Biggin Hill slots are likely to come in first, but once they reach capacity then Oxford, Cambridge and Cranfield bookings will pick up rapidly. Luton may be desirable for the larger head-of-state aircraft because it has a long runway, but it has no spare parking space. Dillon-Godfray says Oxford expects to provide parking for some of the aircraft that have had to drop-and-go elsewhere. Cambridge is one of the few regional airports in the UK with clearance to operate 24/7.

London area airports serving business aviation have been investing in improved infrastructure for some time now, especially since VVIP movements have been progressively squeezed out of Heathrow because of its capacity problems even at ordinary times. But the target date of the Olympics has had the effect of accelerating work. Oxford, for example, has installed its own primary and secondary radar (Mode S), which is just about to go fully operational. This will enable it to provide a local lower airspace radar service and also increase its arrivals rate in instrument meteorological conditions, because it can reduce aircraft separation from the 8-9min procedural requirement to 2-3min.

Meanwhile Oxford's owner, Reuben Brothers, has bought London's only heliport, at Battersea. Helicopter transport direct to the Olympic park has been banned for noise reasons, leaving the Battersea Heliport as the only rotary-wing destination serving central London. Most airport-Olympic Park transfer options depend on rail or road.