Kate Sarsfield/LONDON

Business jet operators at London Heathrow are considering legal action in a bid to stop a UK Government approved slots co-ordinator from introducing what they consider to be damaging changes to the slot allocation process at the airport.

The Heathrow Executive Jet Operators Association (HEJOA) is considering the action following new procedures published by Airport Coordination (ACL), for controlling ad hoc charters at Europe's largest airport.

ACL, an "independent" quasi-governmental organisation responsible for slot allocation at major UK airports, is planning to abolish the current opportunity slot system and will introduce a new system called tactical availability from 6 May.

"Our members see the new procedures as the culmination of Heathrow's objective to rid the airport of business aviation and its supporting services," says HEJOA chairman, Capt Ian Ray.

According to HEJOA, under the new system ACL will declare a guaranteed number of slots each day which will be issued on a first come, first served basis.

ACL has declined to say how many slots will be available, but the executive jet operators fear that the number of slots will be reduced significantly and that business aircraft operators will lose out once again to the airlines.

"We have grown accustomed to using slots that airlines don't want [pool slots], usually at unsocial hours, and also the natural gaps [opportunity slots] that inevitably occur in the ebb and flow of air traffic," says HEJOA.

ACL has added to the controversy by also issuing a priority list for the allocation of pool slots. "We are at the bottom of the list just above test and positioning flights. They are making life very difficult for us," says HEJOA.

Despite the controversy, ACL which is run by 11 UK airlines, claims the majority of users are fully supportive of the procedures "We have tried hard to find a way of accommodating both parties and have put effective controls in place," says ACL.

"We are simply regarded by ACL as an irritation and we are very offended by the way we have been dealt with," says Stephen Grimes, managing director of resident fixed base operator Magec Aviation.

The Harrods-owned operation recently issued high court proceedings against Heathrow Airport operator, BAA. "We took on a 10-year lease in November 1995 and BAA is denying us access to operate effectively-they are trying to have their cake and eat it," says Grimes.

Problems with airport access at Heathrow has already led some companies to transfer their operations. Most recently, Shell Aircraft, a resident of Heathrow for 50 years, decided to transfer to Rotterdam Airport in the Netherlands.

Source: Flight International