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Air chief admits Games ‘challenge’

Air chief admits Games ‘challenge’

The transport chief tasked with flying 500,000 visitors to Britain for the Olympics has admitted: 'It's quite a challenge.'

» Aviation - UK | Monday, April 23, 2012 • The Press Association

The London terminal control general manager for National Air Traffic Services (Nats), Paul Haskins, will be responsible for organising thousands of aircraft jetting in and out of the capital for the summer showpiece - and avoiding a catastrophic mid-air collision.

He has cancelled leave for 360 air traffic controllers as Nats prepares to deal with 4,000 extra flights destined for airports serving the Games.

Staff have undergone special radar training to monitor newly-restricted airspace around London and cope with 700 extra airliners and more than 3,000 executive jets flying in and out of South East airports over three weeks before, during and after the Olympics.

The zone surrounding London from which private planes, hot air balloons and microlights are banned will increase by up to 30 miles in all directions to cut the chance of a mid-air crash between a private plane and a jumbo jet packed with sports fans.

The month-long restrictions, which come into force on July 16, cover as far north as Stansted, south to Weymouth, east to the Thames estuary and west to Oxford.

Military chiefs fear pleasure pilots could accidentally stray across the widened boundaries, leaving air controllers unclear as to whether it is a genuine mistake or a hijacked plane destined for the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, east London.

"During the Olympics if you start infringing London's airspace and you're heading towards one of the key stadiums, the Ministry of Defence is likely to see you as a threat," Mr Haskins said in an interview with the Press Association.

Experts at Nats, responsible for airspace used by commercial airliners, will be the first to know if a plane enters restricted skies, triggering automatic responses which could lead to the RAF launching its Quick Reaction Alert Typhoons to intercept suspect aircraft. Two fighters were launched earlier this month when a private helicopter failed to respond to warnings, leading to one Typhoon breaking the sound barrier over central England and creating a sonic boom heard by millions.

Mr Haskins said: "Our role is to accommodate the RAF in whatever it deems appropriate in terms of risk assessment and deciding what's a threat. If a national security event is declared through the Government and RAF, civilian air traffic is moved out of the way."

The Press Association

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