Airline, Sport|

Olympics Teams to Avoid Heathrow

Plane Flying Over Heathrow SignIt’s being reported that hundreds of Olympic athletes and their coaches will have to leave London from Stansted Airport when the Games are over. This is because, London Heathrow Airport, the official gateway for the Games, won’t be able to handle the rush of passengers. Some of the major teams said to be booking private and charter flights from Stansted include Canada, China and Australia.

According to reports, about one in ten of the 10,500 athletes due to compete at the 2012 Olympic Games are expected to leave the British capital from Stansted. The airport handles 70 million passengers a year and is now due to be full on August 13 following the closing ceremony the day before. This will see 50,000 competitors, coaches and Games officials fight with regular passengers to get flights. It’s very unusual for charter flights after the Games to leave from anywhere other than the official airport for the event.

A spokesman for Stansted airport says Olympics participants will come in small groups when they arrive for the Games, but entire teams will be departing on one or two charters. They are certainly ready to allow teams to depart at the airport. It’s no loss of prestige for Heathrow, as they get 80% of the passengers anyway. Any other airports would be happy with that, though they could be nervous about the challenge. Stansted is a great alternative, as passengers won’t be sent to Manchester or the south coast, he added.

A BAA spokesman says they made the decision not to accommodate private or charter jets during the period of the Games to ensure their scheduled services would be protected during such a challenging time. About 80% of all Games passengers will go through Heathrow, which is operating at 99.2% capacity already. The decision comes after airport owner BAA chief executive Colin Matthews admitted earlier this week that the hub only has 15 years to secure more capacity for flights. It it doesn’t, it could be demoted to a local airport, he claims. The statement also came as the government faces increasing pressure to address the lack of capacity for expansion at the hub, while it has ruled out a third runway.

For the 2004 Olympic Games, the Greek government built a new £2 billion Athens airport, while authorities in China ordered the biggest passenger terminal in the world to be constructed in Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games, which cost about £2.3 billion. However, Heathrow has only spent £20 million to prepare for the Games, and much of that is being spent on a temporary terminal that will only be open for three days after the event. Additionally, hundreds more Border Force staff will be deployed to reduce passport queues; new flexible rules will be in place to allow planes to takeoff and land using the same runway; and 1,300 people have volunteered to meet VIPs off their planes and chaperone them through the terminals.

Despite some of these measures, the volume of extra passengers means the BAA has already diverted 10,000 flights to other airports during the summer. It has also completely banned the arrival and departure of private and charter flights at Heathrow Airport during the Games. This means VIPs on private jets will go to the private north terminal at Stansted Airport. Athletes like the US Olympic basketball team, tennis star Roger Federer and swimming champion Michael Phelps are due to fly into Stansted as well.

 

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