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FARNBOROUGH: London heliport in the PremiAir league

UK business aviation services company PremiAir opened ahead of the Farnborough air show a new VIP passenger terminal at the refurbished London heliport in Battersea.

As the capital's only commercial helicopter landing site, it is set for a bustling show week as a plethora of aerospace senior executives and VIPs converge on the central London facility to catch their helicopter flights to and from Farnborough.

PremiAir operates and manages the London heliport on behalf of its sister company the von Essen Group. The luxury international hotel provider owns the heliport, together with the adjoining five star Hotel Verta, which is to open in September.

"Heliport users now have the use of world-class business aviation facilities, a major improvement on the old passenger facilities which were built when the original heliport was opened by Westland Helicopters in 1959," says PremiAir.

  © PremiAir

The new heliport development, which has been ongoing for two years, will also provide valuable additional helicopter parking capacity, a totally rebuilt and upgraded control tower and modern facilities for the heliport's fire and rescue team.

The heliport has handled more than 450,000 helicopter movements in its 41 years and continues to provide a vital communication link into the heart of London. Heliport users fly in from locations throughout the UK, Ireland and northern Europe. It also provides an important additional base and refuelling point for London's police and emergency services helicopters, which have a vital role in supporting and protecting the London community.

"We're incredibly excited about the new passenger terminal," says David McRobert, PremiAir's group managing director. "From a business aviation perspective it is now a superb facility and in conjunction with Hotel Verta, it really will provide heliport users with immediate access to an exceptional range of on-site services that are unique in the business aviation world."

The new terminal features sound-proofed and air-conditioned passenger lounges, meeting rooms, conference facilities, a customer drop-off area for quick and easy access, underground secure parking and a dedicated heliport reception area to enhance passenger privacy and discretion.

"The London heliport and Hotel Verta will combine to form "London's Vertical Gateway" - the first integrated hotel-heliport solution in Europe, which we believe will set the standard for executive helicopter travel worldwide. We're delighted to be part of this exciting project and we're looking forward to the benefits it will bring to executive helicopter charter clients and owners, particularly in London's important run-up to the 2012 Olympics," adds McRobert.

Neil Gibson, PremiAir's head of charter and management, says: "The Farnborough air show is an excellent opportunity for us to showcase the new London heliport facilities to senior aviation industry executives. Helicopter charter and heliport landing slot bookings for the week are already heavy as show-goers plan to make the most of their time in the UK by avoiding the inevitable lengthy show-related traffic jams on London's motorways."

He adds: "It's only a 20min helicopter trip directly into the show from the heliport and many of the aerospace companies exhibiting at the show are also chartering helicopters for business trips to other parts of the UK and into Europe to maximise their productivity during their stay."


Von Essen acquired London heliport from Weston Homes in 2007 and began a major redevelopment effort at the site a year later. "There was a real danger of the heliport being sold for non-aviation redevelopment," McRobert says. "Von Essen recognised the danger, purchased the heliport and concurrently concluded a deal with Weston Homes to build a luxury hotel that was designed from the outset to encompass new terminal facilities."

The new terminal accepted its first passengers in May. This milestone coincided with the destruction on the old terminal building to make way for additional helicopter parking. Redevelopment of the old control tower is set for completion in October.

With the upgrade almost complete, PremiAir expects a surge in business at the site, which will put a strain on its 12,000 annual movement ceiling.

"London remains one of the key global business aviation centres. Executive helicopter usage throughout the UK is forecast to rise significantly as businesses drive for higher productivity and users seek a more efficient alternative to the increasingly congested ground transport network," McRobert says.

Moreover, with London set to host the Olympic Games in 2012, demand for helicopter transport to and from the capital will soar.

London heliport is situated in an increasingly densely populated residential area, where a small yet outspoken number of noise-conscious residents are vociferously opposed to any movement increase. "We face a number of challenges at the heliport," McRobert says. "Noise pollution is never off the agenda, the green lobby is increasing and helicopters are often perceived as extravagant toys for the wealthy rather than essential business tools."

He adds that the negative perception of helicopters is not helped by the military who perform non-essential flights over the capital in noisy Boeing Chinooks.

"To lessen the environmental impact on the community, PremiAir has adopted a number of initiatives including a 'fly neighbourly' scheme, which encourages operators to reduce their speeds on approach. We vigorously police the helicopter operating procedures around the heliport so the pilots don't undo all our hard work," McRobert says. "Pilots must adhere to our rules when joining and departing the heliport. If these are broken they face getting a yellow or even a red card" - which effectively bans them from operating at the site.

According to PremiAir, there were 27,300 helicopter movements over London in 2009, 71% of which had nothing to do with the heliport. One in four flights over London were police or emergency medical services operations, 97% of movements were between 06:00 and 20:00 and 76% of the movements were made by twin-engined helicopters.