When we were asked by our colleagues at RAF 78 Squadron, based in our Swanwick centre, to support a flypast over London to help mark The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, how could we possibly refuse?
This Thursday, over 70 individual aircraft – from Spitfires and Lancaster bombers to the F-35 Lightning – will gather over the North Sea before flying south and east towards Central London. The aircraft will then over fly Buckingham Palace at 13.00 at 1,000ft – 1,400ft, with one of the rear elements of Typhoons in a special formation, before continuing west and dispersing into the wider airspace.
You’ll all no doubt remember the huge RAF 100 flypast that took place in 2018. Whilst it was no easy feat to arrange, the planning and preparation did help us to develop all the robust procedures that we need for any similar requests that come our way.
But even so, getting such a sizeable flypast safely in and out of London is always going to have an impact on normal operations and commercial flights. Despite protocols being in place, months of careful planning and coordination with our airline partners and other stakeholders are still needed.
Both London City and Heathrow airports will see air traffic movements paused for a few minutes, and around a third of the total aircraft will fly directly over Heathrow itself so it should be quite the show from the tower!
The flypast itself will be expertly choreographed with precise timing by the RAF controllers based here at Swanwick. For those of you who aren’t yet aware, we actually share our operations room with controllers from 78 Squadron, which makes events such as these a whole lot easier to pull off. We’ll have assigned London Terminal Control controllers sitting alongside the military for direct coordination purposes. As soon as the flypast has taken place, our controllers will be ready to restart normal operations again.
It may sound cliché but, everyone really comes together for an important event like this. Planning for the Jubilee flypast has involved people from across the RAF, NATS, CAA and the affected airports involved in either the planning or execution of it. We all want to make it is a safe and successful event that people will remember.
The first step in that process is always to understand exactly what the RAF want to achieve, which airspace they will want to do it in and when. When we have that information, we can go about putting in any required special Temporary Operating Procedures, which our air traffic controllers then use to keep civil aircraft a safe distance while also minimising disruption.
At the request of the RAF, the CAA will also be putting in place Airspace Restrictions on the day to help protect the safety of the large number of aircraft involved in the event. That means no other aircraft will be allowed to use the airspace unless they have specific permission to be there, such as the police or television helicopters.
NATS and the RAF have long had a very close and special relationship and one of the best parts of my job is getting to play a part in arranging these types of events. A major flypast like this doesn’t happen very often, but with the lifting of Covid restrictions, 2022 is becoming extremely busy. So far this year we’ve had a flypast of the RAF Memorial flight at Runnymede and one over Downing Street in honour of the visiting Japanese PM. We’re also involved in planning a flypast of the Mall on 5 June to celebrate the Big Jubilee Lunch, and a another later in June of Trafalgar Square in support of Pride in London.
I cannot say enough how having this close relationship with our RAF colleagues really helps to make these sorts of events much easier to execute.
So… we’ve done all the planning, the processes and procedures are in place, the aircraft are ready, and The Queen will be waiting… all we need is the weather to play ball.
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