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2012 London Olympics: Start Planning Now

September 22, 2011

A U.K. industry panel discussion September 20 answered lingering questions about general aviation flights to the 2012 London Olympics, and revealed that not all procedures are yet in place.

"The U.K. National Air Traffic Service (NATS) is developing an entirely new airspace structure for business flights during the Olympic games," reported Charles Alcock, moderator of the "Practicalities of the Olympics" event held in conjunction with the annual U.K. Business Aviation and General Aviation Day at Cambridge Airport. Earlier special airspace rules had been criticized by business aviation interests for both overreaching time restrictions and bias in favor of airlines. The duration of flight restrictions has already been reduced to July 14 through August 15; Olympic events run from July 27 through August 12.

The new Olympic Games airspace structure is expected to be released in November and will be posted at www.airspacesafety.com/olympics, the central point for all government Olympic airspace information.

In addition to a 60-mile diameter restricted zone from almost the south coast of England to near Cambridge north of London, a smaller prohibited area will be in effect around the London Olympics venues. Reservation slots will be needed for all 40 general aviation (GA) airports surrounding London, and moderator Alcock said that several of the airports will be exhibiting at NBAA's 64th Annual Meeting and Convention in Las Vegas, NV in October, to provide additional information.

"Some airports are constrained by operating hours, some by ramp capacity," said Alcock. "It's already next to impossible to use Heathrow or Gatwick. What we're going to see is the need for operators to be willing to use airports further removed from the immediate Olympic area, or perhaps dropping off passengers and repositioning."

"We are advising our customers and charter brokers to book early... there will be capacity constraints," said panelist Trevor Jones of Gama Aviation. He said that once a slot is issued, changing the slot time will invalidate the original reservation and a new slot could be "many hours away."

Some airports are already accepting reservation slot requests, Alcock said, and cautioned operators not to overbook slots in hopes of more freedom of choice. "Airports are requiring a non-refundable deposit," he said. "There are plenty of slots right now, but the most desirable times will go quickly, so plan ahead." He added that NATS officials told conference participants that more than 3,000 additional aircraft movements are expected during the event, for a total of 10,000 or more flights in the London area during the restricted period.

Patrick Margetson-Rushmore, chief executive of London Executive Aviation, urged operators to educate their London-bound passengers in advance. "If customers are serious about chartering next summer, we urge them to ensureā€¦there is time to have the flight approved."

London Olympics officials say there will be 10.8 million tickets available for various Olympics events in late July and August, including two million tickets for the Paralympics, and that planning ahead will be essential.

"The good news is that business aviation operators who make their plans and preparations well will get the best available slots," said Alcock, who added that refueling services and other considerations will make trip planning more complicated at every stage.

"My personal advice for operators who aren't familiar with the London area is to seriously consider using a flight planning company that is familiar with the area and procedures," he said.

For additional information, visit NBAA's 2012 London Olympics web resource.