AIR traffic controllers have earned themselves a gold medal for their safe handling of thousands of extra flights during the Olympic period.
The London 2012 Games brought an extra half a million visitors to the UK by air travel, including 70,000 athletes, officials and their support teams.
And they were all the responsibility of the team at National Air Traffic Services (NATS), based at Swanwick, near Fareham.
Over the Olympic period controllers handled an extra 4,000 flights alongside colleagues from the military, who had their own control centre set up at Swanwick to work directly alongside their civilian counterparts.
From heads of state to billionaire businessmen wanting to jet in at the last minute, as well as dealing with ‘rogue’ aircraft in the airspace, events kept the 400 specially-trained controllers on their toes.
Paul Haskins, general manager of London terminal control, said: ‘Without a shadow of a doubt, this was the biggest peace-time airspace management project ever. ’
A huge swathe of airspace over London was put under tight security for two weeks before, during and three days after the games.
Any aircraft in the airspace had to be there with the permission and knowledge of the controllers, and in constant two-way contact, or risk military intervention.
There were only three occasions when that was deemed necessary.
Typhoon fighter planes based at RAF Northolt were alerted twice, and a Lynx helicopter from HMS Ocean, which was based on the Thames, responded once to pilots who were not following the rules.
At the opening of an impressive new viewing gallery, which will enable NATS to show off its main operations room to the 2,000 visitors it has each year, NATS chief executive Richard Deakin said: ‘What NATS does is world class and I am very proud of what we achieved over the Olympics.
‘We had some Brazilian air traffic chiefs over here during The Games to show them how it was done, and I think it was quite an eye-opener for them.’
Fareham MP Mark Hoban was there to open the new gallery.
He said: ‘NATS is a great local success story.’
Number of extra flights during the Olympic period: 3,700
Flights by heads of states: 150
Number of planes over London at any time: about 250
Number of commercial flights with a delay of more than 15 minutes: Three
Total amount of delay for whole Olympic period: 593 minutes.
Total amount of delay for same period last year: 13,000 minutes.
Percentage drop in overall delays: 95
Number of military interventions needed: Three
Private jets coming in: 700
Staff given special training: 400