April 30, 2012

As summer approaches, business aircraft operators worldwide are making plans for the 2012 Olympics in London – plans that are greatly impacted by changes in both the airspace surrounding London and the procedures for getting there.

“Two zones are necessary,” said Stephen Patterson, the lead staff member for all activities related to the 2012 Olympics at UK NATS, the air traffic control organization in the United Kingdom. “The first is the prohibited zone.”

However, the Prohibited Zone, which covers the actual airspace over the games themselves, is not as “prohibited” as the term implies.  Traffic will actually be allowed, Patterson said, but only under certain conditions.

“You’re not allowed into that zone unless you are talking to NATS and have an IFR inbound or outbound flight plan to or from one of the airports located in the prohibited zone,” he elaborated. Airports in the prohibited zone include London Heathrow, London City and RAF Northolt.

The Restricted Zone, which surrounds the Prohibited Zone, is airspace that is usually uncontrolled. Between July 23rd and August 16th, however, that airspace will be controlled by the Royal Air Force. All VFR operators in the Restricted Zone will need to file a flight plan and will be required to obtain prior approval from the RAF, Patterson said.

Operations at the 40 airports closest to London will be greatly modified during the Games. While flight plans will be filed as usual, operators must have a slot for arrival or departure or the flight plan will be automatically rejected. Slot allocation requests can be made online with Airport Coordination, Ltd. (ACL). Those slots will be tightly controlled to maximize the amount of traffic flowing to and from the airports closest to Olympic activities.

“Book early to avoid disappointment,” Patterson warned. Although he said  some slots remain open at all 40 airports, they are filling up quickly. “People who want to get closest to the center of London must book early.”

Flight crews will have to be precise in meeting their slot times. The window will extend only ten minutes either side of the allotted time. Because of that, special routing may be necessary to accommodate all Olympic-bound traffic and because of the ever-present possibility of summer storms over the UK, the possibility of a diversion becomes even more pronounced, Patterson said. “If necessary to divert, you may have to go farther than normal. You’ll need to carry extra fuel.”

“We’re also encouraging crews to familiarize themselves with NATS procedures,” said Patterson. “Flight plans are really important. File accurately.”

For more information, review NBAA’s London 2012 Olympics Resources.