Last summer the eyes of the world were firmly fixed on Great Britain as hosts of the London 2012 Olympics. Guaranteeing the smooth arrival and departure of an additional five million visitors to the UK was of paramount importance under such an intense spotlight.

The Olympics presented NATS with an unprecedented challenge and our people responded brilliantly.

Getting fit for the Olympics required us to implement a new airspace design, make changes to operational methods and deal with the increased capacity safely, at the same time as facilitating the biggest airborne security operation in the UK since World War II. The main demand was expected to be focused around London and the Olympic Park, but there were another 30 venues across the UK.

With 150 Heads of State flights, 14,000 athletes, 20,000 media personnel and 70,000 overseas ‘Games family’ due to descend, the smooth and efficient flow of air traffic was vital.

Getting started

Just like the athletes themselves, our preparations for London 2012 began well in advance. We attended our initial meetings back in 2009 in order to build a picture of the challenge ahead.

Temporary controlled airspace was introduced to improve the flow of traffic. This included the introduction of a number of new holds and routes to accommodate additional traffic to regional airfields. The UK Government also introduced security restrictions which saw the arrival of prohibited and restricted zones of airspace over large areas of London and the South East throughout the Olympics.  All these changes required training 400 of our controllers in new procedures.

All systems go

One of NATS’ biggest responsibilities was to create a dedicated Olympics Airspace Management Cell at our Swanwick Centre. This was manned by military personnel and was responsible for supporting the airspace restrictions around the Olympic stadiums. Military controllers provided air traffic services outside controlled airspace within the restricted zone, as well as providing 24-hour security surveillance.

A runway slot reservation system was established to ensure that all aircraft using controlled airspace obtained an airport slot. Use of the system was mandatory for all arrivals and departures into the 40 airfields which fell within the Olympics area.

Throughout the whole Olympics, our communications centre was activated – conducting three telephone conferences a day when traffic was at its peak. An airfield status map was also made available on our customer website, providing up-to-date information on airfield diversion status across the UK and Western Europe. One of the biggest concerns for the airlines was the potential disruption from adverse weather or military activity. Despite several heavy thunderstorms and a number of military aircraft launches during the Olympics, everything ran smoothly and with minimal delay.

A team effort

From start to finish, there is virtually no one at NATS that wasn’t involved in the Olympics preparations in some way or another. From our airspace and procedure designers to our engineers and projects, from our training team and network management to our operations and support staff – it was a real team effort. Our people worked tirelessly to get us ready for the challenge and the operation was prepared perfectly for the starter’s gun!

NATS’ efforts didn’t go unrecognised. We received numerous compliments from our customers on the way we handled the event, and the information we provided them. This is just one of the comments we received:

“Given the huge amount of preparatory work undertaken by NATS over the recent years for the Olympics, it is a credit to those involved how well it has all gone.”

In the spirit of the Games, the whole NATS operation came together to make sure that NATS played our part in what was an extraordinarily successful Olympics. As Team GB reflects on its success and considers the legacy of the Olympics, NATS will do the same.

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