Can Heathrow cope during the Olympics?

Stats presented at the last meeting of the Heathrow Airport Consultative Committee


Interestingly over the weekend, it was reported in the FT that the “Airlines want Olympic priority”, suggesting that the airlines are not confident that Heathrow will be able to cope during the Olympics and thus want priority for their flights.  This is despite being told by BAA at the last Heathrow Airport Consultative Committe(HACC) meeting that Heathrow aims to deliver a great experience for all passengers during the games with some major investment made by them.  When I questioned LOCOG & TfL at last week’s Transport Committee meeting, they also, seemed to be assured of Heathrow’s ability to deliver.

Heathrow is the “official port of entry” for the games where over 80 per cent of games traffic will pass through.  The key challenges will be the volume of passengers and bags as well as the logistical complexities during the Paralympics.  The net result will be an increase of 7.2 per cent of passengers daily and a 9 per cent increase in direct passengers alighting at Heathrow as opposed to being transfer passengers.  The increase in traffic for baggage passing through will also be on a similar scale with some athletes and media expected to have as many as 4 bags each.

These are worrying statistics for local residents given that the next trial period of operation freedom (where restrictions on landings and take-off are relaxed) will take place during the games period as well.  This is something the airlines themselves are aware of so it makes all the more surprising that  they have approached the Department of Transport (DoT) about their concerns. What could the four major airlines in the letter be referring to when asking the DoT for “measures to improve airspace resilience” other then operation freedom over the Olympic period? Something is clearly not quite right here and poses some serious questions of what has already been presented to HACC and reassurances given to us at last weeks Transport Committee at the London Assembly.  

The Heathrow experience will also be the last experience in London for many of our overseas visitors, including the vast majority of athletes, media and foreign fans descending into our city.  However, we shouldn’t forget that there are other London airports like City airport, it has the added benefit of being much closer to the main Olympic site which would also negate the need for passengers to travel acrosss London to the main venue in Stratford. So with bigger plans and the operation of mixed mode trials at Heathrow, West London residents should not be expected to bear all the brunt. Other London airports should alos be utlised wherever possible. Perhaps we should consider channelling our dignitaries through City airport instead of Heathrow? 

6 thoughts on “Can Heathrow cope during the Olympics?

  1. Tim Henderson

    “What could the four major airlines in the letter be referring to when asking the DoT for “measures to improve airspace resilience” other then operation freedom over the Olympic period?”

    1. The operational freedom measures to be adopted in Phase II of the trials are still to be decided on after the experiences of Phase I have been reported.

    2. The Minister may have been surprised at the extent and frequency with which the freedoms were exercised and the complaints from annoyed residents which ensued following the removal of the respite periods. She may be considering introducing a seasonal quota in some form which may help the airport to prioritise the limited number of occasions on which the added disruption occurs.

    3. Countering this would be pressure for the airlines and airport to hype up the air traffic control issues during the games period and seek yet more “freedoms”.

    4. Some of the measures that the airlines are after may be included in the response of NATS to the Commons Transport Select C’tee :

    8.4 NATS has facilitated two cross industry workshops with airports, airlines, business jet operators, ACL, CAA, DfT and MoD to highlight risks and discuss an industry response. At these
    workshops, airports and airlines suggested mitigations that could be provided by the Government on a temporary basis which would significantly improve resilience or recovery from disruption, such as:

    Additional measures to ensure effective management and policing of additional airport slots

    Increased availability of military airspace

    Limited easing of the night jet ban restrictions

    Early vectoring off departure routes to enable increased runway capacity during recovery from disruption

    Prioritisation of certain aircraft types or flights over others.

    I would agree that more effective policing of the current slots is a good idea to prevent airlines “gaming the system” and this should be combined with the proper realistic review of the scheduling operation to take into account all the factors that cause it to break down. This should be another part of the SEAT proposals that included “operational freedoms” – but we have heard little of its development since last summer.

    However more night flights and mixed mode by stealth are not attractive !

    The air quality impact from surface access issues arising from the increased number of Olympic passengers is also worrying. Increasing taxi numbers from 5000 to 7500 (even if three of them are hydrogen powered !) does not seem to be an efficient way to manage the matter.

  2. Chris Pickering

    Not only airports will be impacted by increased traffic, all roads, rail and tubes in the UK will stretched. The new get ahead of the games site indicates areas which are likely to be effected and gives users olympic travel tips. Really useful!

  3. Kathaleen T

    When you look at the stats in the graphic above, it doesn’t look to much of a stretch. Particularly as athletes can check in at the Olympic village and there will be a special temporary Olympic terminal at Heathrow. Fingers crossed, but it is a concern and would put a big downer on what I hope will be a great event.

  4. Tim Henderson

    Operational Freedoms Phase II was announced last week at the same time as the BAA and CAA reports on Phase I were released. Consequently there was no opportunity for local authorities and communities to engage in discussion on the impacts of the first trial before decisions were made.

    The phase II trial is to be extended an extra six months from its original three month summer/Olympic period to continue until March 31st 2013.

    There are also additional freedoms to divert planes off the standard departure routes early (but, it is hoped, “mainly within the existing noise preferential routes” – whatever “mostly” means) and also to allow additional planes to be brought forward to land in the night between 0530 and 0600 in exchange for planes not landing that are scheduled to land between 0430 and 0500. (One correspondent tells me that currently there are only two flights (both BA) scheduled to land between 0430 and 0500 and we should watch out for mission creep/ shifting the goalposts to occur to expand this loophole.)

    There is also a strange CAA ERCD report on the noise effects of the trial which in my opinion belittles the disturbances caused by the erratic breaches of the respite that properalternation should provide. By looking at averages over the whole period and at the additional breaches caused by the trial freedoms (as opposed to including the ongoing and increasing breaches caused by previously granted tactical measures in recent years) the argument is made that the effect avaerages out to two minutes a day.

    I think reports from the local authorities on the impacts reported by residents should be appearing shortly……


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