London heliport prepares for Olympic traffic

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London’s only commercial helicopter landing site, the Barclays London Heliport in Battersea, is anticipating record traffic because of business generated by the Olympic Games. Its managing director Chris Orphanou said it already has about 130 slots booked that are specific to Olympic visitors, in excess of the traffic it normally handles.

 aviation images

Aviation Images

Barclays London Heliport is inside the airspace prohibited zone

Yet the heliport is inside the airspace designated as a “Prohibited Zone”. Steve Patterson, the head of London Terminal Control at UK air navigation service provider NATS, said that what it actually means is that no air movements are allowed without a slot allocation gained through prior flight plan clearance that requires a minimum of two hours, and which demands strict adherence to designated arrival and departure procedures with tight navigation criteria.

The London Olympic Games, despite lobbying by the business aviation community, was not allowed a heliport near the Olympic Park, so the Barclays Heliport is the nearest that any arrival by air can get to the Olympic site, with the exception of London City airport. In fact airspace security is so tight that no helicopter apart from cleared police, military or medical operations are permitted further east than Battersea bridge, a few hundred metres east of the heliport’s Thames-side site.

Any access by travellers to the Olympic Park from the heliport has to be on the surface, either public transport or privately arranged car transport with no traffic privileges. For that reason the Heliport, which is on the south bank of the river Thames, has linked up with a company called Water Chariots. They offer chartered river links from the heliport’s adjacent quay via the Thames to the Limehouse Basin, and then along the river Lea to the doorstep of the Olympic Park itself.

Despite the restrictions placed on helicopter usage in London area airspace during the Olympic period, Eurocopter UK’s managing director Markus Steinke says the Games will generate about 7,000 additional helicopter flying hours between May and the end of August, including tracking the Olympic Torch relay.

Helicopter use by the media in the Olympic area is also subject to strict security. Air-to-ground coverage can be arranged through only one organisation: the Olympics Broadcast Service.