Ahead of the Olympics, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority was expecting upwards of 10,000 flights by general aviation aircraft – that is, anything from hang gliders to transatlantic private jets – during the busy games period.
The authorities prepared by asking ACL, the country’s co-ordinator of airport take-off and landing slots, to take management of 40 air fields in the south-east of England (some critics argued this was going overboard). And they demanded that people entering the games’ restricted airspace on private aircraft receive security clearance before take-off.
But the numbers so far suggest any influx of Olympic private flyers is merely making up for others avoiding London. ACL reports that 7,400 of the general aviation slots have been booked for the period between July 21st and August 15th – just a few hundred more movements than in a normal year.
“It’s looking busy but manageable,” says a spokesman for the CAA.
Darren Grover, chief operating officer at London City Airport, has seen the trend on the ground. The airport lies just four miles from the Olympic park and within a few javelin throws of the ExCel Centre, where, Mr Grover points out, Team GB has won many of its medals. (ExCel hosts boxing, judo, wrestling, fencing, taekwondo, weightlifting and table tennis.)
“We’re probably net-net even,” he says of traffic this week and last. “But Donie’s having a heart attack every day because it’s one head of state here, another head of state there,” he adds, gesturing towards Donie Braddick, the slightly bashful manager of London City’s jet centre – the terminal for private aviation.
Meanwhile, Adam Twidell, chief executive of charter company PrivateFly, estimates his volumes will receive a 50 per cent boost from the Olympics, “but it’s a growing business”; his guess is that the wider sector might see something closer to a 10 per cent rise. “I don’t think it’s anything like what people were expecting.”
The industry could use a fillip. Four years after Detroit auto executives were pilloried for taking corporate jets to Washington to ask for a federal bail-out, corporate aviation traffic is still about 40 per cent below mid-decade peaks.
Mr Grover hopes the general public is starting to accept, however, that most corporate aircraft simply facilitate business: “Very few people use a private jet these days because they want to smash it up or have sex mid-air,” he says. Departing athletes, be warned.