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?