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PASSENGER SERVICES Last modified on May 17, 2012

Olympic effort

How are Britain’s airports gearing up for the 2012 Olympic Games in London? Stephen Vaughan investigates.

With the July 27 Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games fast approaching, athletes, spectators and organisers are preparing for what promises to be a once in a lifetime experience.

This is also true for Britain’s airports, which from mid-July to mid-August will undergo the most stringent of logistical tests – with the whole world watching.

Around 80% of all Games visitors are expected to pass through Heathrow. The sheer volume of passengers coupled with the complexity of the task will make this summer a genuine challenge for the world’s busiest international airport.

While ‘Olympic’ arrivals take place over a period of approximately two weeks and two days, departures do so over just three days, one of which will be the most crowded in Heathrow’s history.

“The first action we took was to visit the former host cities of Athens and Vancouver to understand the scale of the job at hand,” says Nick Cole, head of Olympic and Paralympic planning for Heathrow Airport.

“We worked with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games [LOCOG] and the National Olympics Committees [NOC] to nail down how many people are going to be part of the Olympic and Paralympic family, then carried out an assessment of key days to see whether we had sufficient capacity to cope.”

Heathrow handled 123,000 passengers on its busiest ever day. On August 13 this year, the airport is anticipating 137,800 visitors.

As a result, a dedicated Olympic Games’ terminal has been erected, complete with 31 check-in desks and seven security lanes. The new terminal is on the south side of the airport between Terminal 4 and
British Airway’s World Cargo, in an area usually used for staff car parking.

“The intent is that on August 13 there’s a group we can control closely and that’s the athlete group, approximately 10,100 people. There will be a remote check-in at the Olympic Village and we will collect around 37,900 bags the night before,” says Cole.

“The following day, the athletes will be processed through the new terminal before being driven airside to their chosen terminal of departure.”

Given the additional requirements for Paralympians, Heathrow has worked closely with LOCOG to ensure all requirements are met.

Work is currently being done with departure airports to ensure wheelchairs are loaded and identified in a way that assists their repatriation upon disembarkation at Heathrow. Extra lifts have also been built to ease the passage of movement for physically challenged athletes.

Over 1,000 volunteers from local communities have been assigned to meet and greet passengers arriving for the games. All will be dressed in official Olympic uniform and many will be multi-lingual.

Meanwhile, as the Games draw closer, the airport will be dressed up to feel like it’s part of the opening ceremony, and “part of the party”, according to Cole.

“Oscar wining film director, Danny Boyle, has got the easy job,” jokes Cole. “He’s got one opening ceremony, we’ve got about 4,000 of them!

“We haven’t created anything earth shatteringly new, it’s all about the scale of the solutions we’ve put together. It’s a huge task requiring over 94 airlines to operate closely and effectively together. We just want to do our bit to ensure the UK is well represented on the important days.”

London Stansted
London Stansted is an official provider to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. At just 30 minutes by taxi, it is also the closest of London’s four main airfields to the Olympic action.

Stansted’s terminal and airfield have been developed to serve 35 million passengers a year. It is currently processing around 18 million. As such, it has the infrastructure and capacity to deal with any anticipated increase in aircraft movements and passenger numbers. 

Staff from all 200 on-airport companies will come together as ‘Team Stansted’ to ensure the airport operates as smoothly as possible, utilising the knowledge and expertise of its 10,000 strong workforce and customer service skills, range of languages and cultural understanding.

Team Stansted was put to the test last year by two high profile events: the visit of US President, Barack Obama, and the arrival and departure of the Barcelona football team and 10,000 of their fans attending the Champions League final at Wembley.

The gateway believes that these events provided an ideal opportunity to both trial and showcase Stansted’s operational expertise in managing complex and sensitive visits whilst maintaining its service to passengers.

Stansted is one of only a small number of airports in the UK with a specialist border inspection post necessary for the efficient and safe transport of high value horses.

In the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Games, 24 horses from the British, Australian, Jamaican, Japanese, Chinese, the USA and New Zealand eventing and dressage teams passed through the airport. Many more are expected this year. 

Wenlock (the London 2012 Olympic mascot) and Mandeville (the London 2012 Paralympic mascot) were present to cut the ceremonial ribbon at the opening of a London 2012 shop in the departure lounge
last summer.

The LOCOG store is already giving international travellers the chance to stock up on Olympic memorabilia as they pass through the terminal.

London Gatwick
Although Gatwick has not been chosen as a designated Olympic airport by LOCOG, it is still preparing itself for an influx of passengers and is determined to deliver a high quality experience for all passengers flying in or out of London.

The airport will be hosting over 300 London volunteers from the mayor’s office who will be working across the airport for the duration of both Games. It will also be providing interactive information pods to answer passenger queries.

Gatwick’s transformative investment of €1.2 billion over the past ten years is an undoubted benefit to visitors.

As UK Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, noted recently: “I welcome Gatwick’s commitment to invest on improving facilities, which will benefit attendees of the Games, but will also be something that passengers and travellers to the UK can benefit from for many years to come.”

London Southend
For the last two years, London Southend has been preparing for the Olympics, transforming itself from an ageing airport into a gleaming new one.

It is the closest airfield to the Games at 19 miles, and the only one with a direct mainline rail connection with the Olympic Park at Stratford, a trip of 44 minutes.

Since the Stobart Group purchased the airport for €25 million in 2008, €120 million of private sector funds have been invested in its redevelopment. A new, ultra-modern ‘Fly-Through’ passenger terminal building has been constructed only 100 yards from the brand new railway station.

A new hotel will also be open in advance of the summer games. The five-storey Holiday Inn will have 129-bedrooms plus a fully soundproofed rooftop bar and restaurant that will provide panoramic views of the airport and surrounding area.

Greening officially opened the airport’s new ‘Fly Through’ passenger terminal in February, calling it “a huge boost” for Southend ahead of the Games.

“Regional airports have an important role to play in this country’s national infrastructure, and this impressive new facility comes at a key time – perfectly positioned for the 2012 Games, just a train ride away in Stratford,” said Greening.

LOCOG recently announced that Birmingham Airport, home to Britain’s second largest city, is to host a London 2012 welcome spectacular to give athletes and fans jetting into the region a special Midlands welcome.

As they land, passengers will see the iconic and inspiring Olympic rings on the airport’s new air traffic control tower, which can also be spotted from the A45 – the main arterial route into Birmingham.

This guarantees visitors a warm welcome and makes locals and airport employees feel part of proceedings.

The airport made sure the ‘rings’ were in place by March 26 to coincide with the completion of the first phase of the new air traffic control tower build.

Birmingham will feature the London 2012 pictograms along the taxiway as well as use the London 2012 branding to cover Diamond House opposite the terminal.

Olympic UK
After years of planning and preparation for the 2012 Olympics, the sporting extravaganza is now just months away. Britain is bracing itself for an influx of foreign visitors and its airports are ready and waiting!

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