The flypast for the King’s Coronation involved massive collaboration to succeed within some of the world’s busiest airspace. With 68 aircraft originally planned to take to the skies, months of planning and coordination were undertaken to ensure that the display would run as smoothly as possible.
As part of this team, NATS Operations Supervisor Richard Taylor led the team that coordinated the civil air traffic. Working alongside Richard included Royal Air Force Wing Commander Noel Rees, who was the flypast Mission Commander for the event, as well as 78 Squadron Air Traffic Controller and Supervisor Warrant Officer Nikki Epps. The impact of such an event on civil air traffic cannot be understated, as Richard explained in the latest episode of Altitude.
Minimising Impact on Civil Air Traffic
Coming off the back of the displays for RAF100 and the Jubilee Flypast, there is a precedent for ambitious flypasts. Although each has featured different display elements and aircraft, they have all had a significant impact on civil air traffic.
Richard explains that the planning to minimise the impact on civil air traffic started 3 months before the Coronation.
It makes almost no difference whether it’s one aircraft, 12 aircraft, or in this case, the helicopters and the reds, or it would have been the full 68 aircraft it’s a stop or an impact on each airport for a period of time, planned on when everything goes past.
With so many additional aircraft in the airspace, as well as additional airspace restrictions for the duration of the flypast, considering how to minimise the impact on civil air traffic was essential. Additionally, with these restrictions in place, there’s a limited number of ways to get aircraft past the major airports, down The Mall over Buckingham Palace and then safely exit the other side. Coordination between 78 Squadron – the unit of RAF controllers at NATS’ Swanwick control centre – and the NATS civil controllers managing traffic in and out of all the London area airports, ensured that the operation ran safely.
Managing the Weather
Despite all the planning to ensure that the event would run as planned, there are always factors that cannot be controlled. As Richard explained, despite frequent conversations on the run-up to the flypast to try and remove as many uncertainties as possible, going into the day itself, one thing will always remain uncertain: the weather.
Due to the weather on the day (very British: low cloud and drizzly rain!) one of a number of contingency elements was enacted to coordinate what could still fly on the flypast as well as coordinating the safe return of all the aircraft to their home bases. With several restricted areas in place in addition to existing controlled airspace, all the work done in advance on procedures ensured that all the aircraft that were able to safely participate in the flypast were able to enter and exit at the correct times, without major disruption to civil air traffic.
To find out more behind-the-scenes information about the Coronation Flypast, including the inside story from NATS Operation Supervisor Richard Taylor, Royal Air Force Wing Commander Noel Rees and 78 Squadron Air Traffic Controller and Supervisor Warrant Officer Nikki Epps, check out the full NATS Altitude episode here.
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