London Olympics air traffic control chief outlines challenges


The transport chief tasked with arranging air control for an estimated  500,000 people visiting Britain for the Olympics has admitted: “It's quite a challenge.”

The London terminal control general manager for National Air Traffic Services (Nats), Paul Haskins, will be responsible for organising thousands of aircraft jetting in and out of the capital for the summer showpiece - and avoiding a catastrophic mid-air collision.

He has cancelled leave for 360 air traffic controllers as Nats prepares to deal with 4,000 extra flights destined for airports serving the Games.

Staff have undergone special radar training to monitor newly-restricted airspace around London and cope with 700 extra airliners and more than 3,000 executive jets flying in and out of South East airports over three weeks before, during and after the Olympics.

The zone surrounding London from which private planes, hot air balloons and microlights are banned will increase by up to 30 miles in all directions to cut the chance of a mid-air crash between a private plane and a jumbo jet packed with sports fans.

The month-long restrictions, which come into force on July 16, cover as far north as Stansted, south to Weymouth, east to the Thames estuary and west to Oxford.

Military chiefs fear pleasure pilots could accidentally stray across the widened boundaries, leaving air controllers unclear as to whether it is a genuine mistake or a hijacked plane destined for the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, east London.

“During the Olympics if you start infringing London's airspace and you're heading towards one of the key stadiums, the Ministry of Defence is likely to see you as a threat,” Mr Haskins said in an interview with the Press Association.

“The Civil Aviation Authority is responsible for uncontrolled airspace.

“We have done a lot of work with them in terms of education because we don't want light aircraft and microlights getting confused about what is and isn't controlled airspace and wandering into an air lane we wouldn't want them in.”

Experts at Nats, responsible for airspace used by commercial airliners, will be the first to know if a plane enters restricted skies, triggering automatic responses which could lead to the RAF launching its Quick Reaction Alert Typhoons to intercept suspect aircraft.

Two fighters were launched earlier this month when a private helicopter failed to respond to warnings, leading to one Typhoon breaking the sound barrier over central England and creating a sonic boom heard by millions.

Mr Haskins said: “Our role is to accommodate the RAF in whatever it deems appropriate in terms of risk assessment and deciding what's a threat.

“If a national security event is declared through the Government and RAF, civilian air traffic is moved out of the way.”

He added military commanders would not have “the luxury” of knowing whether an unidentified plane was a small plane with a lost pilot or a hijacked jet with a terrorist intent on mass murder at the controls.

“The MoD just knows there is an aircraft in airspace it shouldn't be, heading towards a populated area,” said Mr Haskins.

“They will have to do a risk assessment and you might find there is a security response to that flight because they are trying to work out if it is a threat.”

Another issue which could affect the Games is the potential for queues at airports' border controls, which could have a knock-on effect for flights meaning delays and disruption,

Earlier this month MPs revealed their concerns that Heathrow might struggle to cope with increased demand, sparking fears of long waits for immigration checks, which could lead to passengers being kept on planes after landing, clogging up aircraft parking spaces and creating congestion on aprons, forcing officials to “stack” jets in the sky.

Mr Haskins said planes could be held at departing airports to avoid putting too much stress on destination airports and said it was unlikely controllers would need to put jets into holding patterns.

He said systems were in place so Nats could warn airlines of congestion, meaning pilots of London-bound lanes could be ordered not to take off from European airports - minimising pressure at South East terminals.

“We have regular telephone conferences with airports throughout the day where we are looking at forecast demand for the next three to four hours,” he said.

“They advise us in terms of what they can handle and we will regulate the airspace and flows of aircraft to meet whatever the airport has declared its capacity to be.”

He added: “We don't get into a situation where they ring us up and say, 'No more, thank you very much.”'

As well as the extra planes bringing fans, Olympics officials, athletes and media to the capital, three aircraft will hover over Games' venues providing television footage of events like the marathon and road cycling, with another three nearby.

And the demands of American television have placed a rather more unusual burden on airspace regulation so one channel can bring its audience a bird's-eye view of the Olympic Park.

Mr Haskins said: “The broadcaster NBC is chartering an airship for the whole of the Games from where it will present its coverage.”


peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam