SECURITY CONCERNS are posing early hurdles for the plan to install a helicopter short-haul transport system at Atlanta, Georgia, in time for the 1996 Olympic Games.

The project, backed by the US Federal Aviation Administration and the Helicopter Association International (HAI) and seen as a blueprint for similar transport systems in other US cities, has attracted interest from China, France, Japan and the UK.

Success hinges largely on support from local businesses, which want fast reliable transport to help them operate effectively despite heavy traffic congestion anticipated during the Olympics.

Several companies, including Atlanta-based UPS, are concerned that an FAA aviation-security sub-committee has requested a total ban on any aircraft, other than those operated by law-enforcement agencies or emergency services, flying within 5km (3 miles) of the Olympic stadium.

That would effectively prohibit all civilian helicopters from operating in the downtown area, defeating the objective for the firms involved.

Businesses have been assured by the FAA, that negotiations are continuing and that all interested parties will be consulted, before an agreement is signed in July.

Other issues remain to be resolved before the project can become a reality. A total of 12 possible landing sites in and around Atlanta have been identified, but a key downtown site appears to have been lost. The site owner has withdrawn its offer of the land, because of concerns over insurance liability.

Cost is also an issue. Current estimates are that the project, with 40 to 50 aircraft providing cargo, emergency-service and law-enforcement transport, will have a price tag of around $8 million - a sum which will have to be shared by the private and public sectors.

Finally, there is the question of what happens to the system after the Olympics. "Atlanta really determines what happens afterwards," says Steve Fisher of the FAA's general-aviation vertical-flight office.

The near-term goal is to set up a demonstration system involving five to seven helicopters during the third or fourth quarter of 1995.

Source: Flight International