Friday, July 13, 2012

“Draconian” Olympic flight restrictions imposed

New flight restrictions have been imposed in the run up to London Olympics which some pilots say are too draconian.

As well as a virtual no-fly-zone covering an area stretching from east London to beyond Heathrow [map], another much larger zone [map], covering an area of some 17,000 square km, has been established within which private pilots with have to adhere to stringent rules.

The main prohibited zone will be about 50 km wide but does not affect commercial aircraft, which fly in established air traffic corridors. As part of Friday's build-up to the wider airspace restrictions, Sea King helicopters are being deployed to RAF Northolt.

All pilots of non commercial planes will be required to log their flight plans before taking off and stay out of the main city zone, unless granted special permission. Failure to adhere to the regulations which came into force at 00:01 BST on Saturday [23:01 GMT on Friday] could be very severe.

Group Captain Rich Jacob told Sky News, "We need to understand what is flying in the airspace above London. Therefore the pilots are going to be required to pass details of their flights in advance, have that flight approved, and then once they're airborne they need to remain in contact with air traffic control throughout their flight in the restricted airspace."

Britain's armed forces will be monitoring the air traffic over London and the home counties and if necessary scramble RAF Typhoon jets or military helicopters to intercept deviating aircraft. Unidentified aircraft which do not respond could be shot down as a last resort.

It is a worrying thought for novice pilots, unused to the strict controls being put in place. Rob Lugt, who flies at the Fair Oaks airfield in Surrey, described the rules as "daunting". Speaking to Sky News he said,"The difficulties will come if there is some kind of electrical failure on the aeroplane. Many social pilots like myself aren't that experienced so, if we had some sort of failure, it would take a lot of our attention to try to rectify that."

"And, while we're rectifying it, it's possible we could do something the military thought was dangerous. That's when the problem would happen."

Such concerns could ground many pilots, fearful that a simple mistake could lose them their licence... or worse. With the prospect of pilots staying at home, quite a number of private aerodromes are understandably worried about the financial impact the restrictions will have on their business.

Private pilots too could lose money, if no-one is prepared to hire their services. Losses could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Andy Raymond, chairman of the London Transport Flying Club, said many pilots will not risk flying during the restrictions, which run until 15th August.

"I do understand it partly because we are so close to London. We could be in Heathrow in minutes and central London in a few more minutes, so I do understand some of the restrictions, but nevertheless it doesn't do us much good," he told Sky News.

Most pilots have to fly every 28 days to keep their licences up to date but anyone who breaches the Olympic regulations could have their licence suspended [BBCSky News]. There will be some commercial companies ferrying passengers to and from the Games, but they too face restrictions and cannot land close to the Olympic Park [BBC].

It is not only private planes that face being blasted from the skies should they disobey orders. Even model aeroplanes weighing more than 7 kg have been banned from London's airspace [map - Olympic Airspace Safety  / Charts] [Pictured: A commercial jet is escorted by three RAF Tornados over London in 2001]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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