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NATS gears up for all-time peak traffic at Olympics

UK air navigation service provider NATS has pinpointed the four crunch periods it expects to encounter during the London Olympic Games as it tries to cope with an additional 4,000 movements between 24 July and 15 August.

Despite this, NATS chief executive officer Richard Deakin remains confident it "will do an excellent job", handling the all-time traffic peaks in southeastern airspace, barring unexpected events.

These, Deakin explained, could be as simple as a summer storm drifting across London. With NATS and the airports operating close to capacity, five additional holding patterns have been set up for contingencies, but it will not take much operational disruption to force unwelcome diversions.

Paul Haskins, general manager London Terminal Control, says the additional flights will comprise 1,000 charter airline operations and 3,000 business aviation flights. NATS says scheduled airlines are not adding additional frequencies, but they may have higher load factors.

The airlines' appeals for air traffic control priority on the grounds that they will be carrying more people than other traffic categories has been turned down by NATS because it is not permitted by its licence to allocate priorities except in an emergency. Haskins says the Civil Aviation Authority was not prepared to allow a temporary variation on its licence.

Peak days are predicted to be inbound 24-25 July, just before the 27 July opening ceremony; a net outbound flow on 29 July of those who arrived for the opening; another inbound peak on 4 August for the men's 100m final, and an outbound rush between 13 and 15 August after the games close on 12 August. NATS says the additional traffic generated by the subsequent Paralympics, taking place between 29 August and 9 September, can be handled without the need for the additional holding patterns.

Techniques for managing the additional peak traffic include working with neighbouring air navigation service providers to prepare inbound traffic for sequencing longer than normal before entry to UK airspace. Haskins says that during the peak period four NATS terminal control experts will be seconded to the Eurocontrol Central Flow Management Unit in Brussels to aid this process.

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