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An Olympic effort

Posted: 29 March 2012 | Mark Glover, Commissioning Editor, International Airport Review | No comments yet

London will be hosting the 2012 Olympic Games this summer, an event that will have the eyes of the world focused on England’s capital city. For many, Heathrow Airport will be the gate to the event with spectators and athletes passing through one of the world’s busiest airports. Mark Glover, Commissioning Editor at International Airport Review spoke to Nick Cole, Head of Olympic and Paralympic Planning and Operations at BAA, about the challenges that such an influx of passengers will cause at Heathrow.

Mark Glover: What affect are you expecting on the games will have and how are you prepared for these?

Nick Cole: I see it as two major issues to deal with; the quantity of passengers and the quantity of bags. The 13th of August 2012 will be a major day for us as it will be the busiest day for departures after the closing ceremony. Our busiest day to date at Heathrow was when 123,000 passengers departed from the airport in one day. On the 13th, we expect to process 137,000. Heathrow is a hub airport so it is geared at 65 per cent take-up through the ‘front door’ of the airport and 35 per cent through the ‘side door’. On the 13th, the dynamic changes tremendously and we will be expecting 87 per cent of passenger intake through the ‘front door’, which will certainly strain our assets.

London will be hosting the 2012 Olympic Games this summer, an event that will have the eyes of the world focused on England’s capital city. For many, Heathrow Airport will be the gate to the event with spectators and athletes passing through one of the world’s busiest airports. Mark Glover, Commissioning Editor at International Airport Review spoke to Nick Cole, Head of Olympic and Paralympic Planning and Operations at BAA, about the challenges that such an influx of passengers will cause at Heathrow.

Mark Glover: What affect are you expecting on the games will have and how are you prepared for these?

Nick Cole: I see it as two major issues to deal with; the quantity of passengers and the quantity of bags. The 13th of August 2012 will be a major day for us as it will be the busiest day for departures after the closing ceremony. Our busiest day to date at Heathrow was when 123,000 passengers departed from the airport in one day. On the 13th, we expect to process 137,000. Heathrow is a hub airport so it is geared at 65 per cent take-up through the ‘front door’ of the airport and 35 per cent through the ‘side door’. On the 13th, the dynamic changes tremendously and we will be expecting 87 per cent of passenger intake through the ‘front door’, which will certainly strain our assets.

MG: What difference will this make on the baggage handling?

NC: People will be coming to London for the Olympics for a month or six weeks, which will of course, increase in the number of items they bring. On a normal day an ‘average’ passenger carries 1.7 bags. Olympics athletes, and the various Olympic associations, will be expected to carry four bags per passenger. Furthermore, Heathrow usually processes 150,000 bags in a single day; on the 13th we need to process 203,000 bags.

MG: How will you cope with this?

NC: We will operate a remote check-in within the games village, which will help us to process passengers and their baggage. It has been agreed that all the basements of all the accommodation blocks within the Olympic Village will act as a check-in. We also expect to be able to lift 55-90 per cent of the bags off the athletes the night before the closing ceremony which will help our logistics enormously. Also, as Heathrow has a night time flying ban, the BHS system will be idle at night which will enable us to bring in the bags and process them on the day and of course through the night.

MG: How will you deal with the influx of passengers on that final day?

NC: Normally passengers arrive at the forecourt of their specific terminal and then go through the usual processes. We have singled out the athletes group for the day of the 13th after the closing ceremony, when we expect 10,000 Olympic athletes. We will drive them to a special games terminal – a temporary structure that will be constructed at terminal four. Here, there will be a forecourt, 31 check-in desks, security lanes and an airside bus that will be in operation. After the athletes have arrived at this special terminal, they will go through security to be processed. There will then be a short airside dwell and a coach will then take them to their chosen terminal of departure and they will be put ‘clean’ into the international departure lounge of their relevant airline. Of course, they won’t miss out on the party and still get the atmosphere of the airport as they go through. As a result of this the rest of the airport should feel like a regular busy summer day, allowing us to run a normal service that we usually provide for all of our other passengers.

It did take some time to get everyone agreed on the principal of this ‘pop-up’ terminal. We have spent over £20 million, and of course it had complications, but this additional capacity is essential for the airport on this particular day. We will never see a day like it again at Heathrow so it is an essential part of our Olympic plan.

We will only require this games terminal for three days after which it will be taken down. We do not require it for the Paralympics as this is more complex than just volume. This scenario has been used before at the Vancouver Winter Olympics games, so we know it is the right system for us.

MG: I understand this will also involve a huge volunteer drive. How is this going?

NC: We are actively recruiting 1,000 volunteers to help with our efforts and so far, the volunteer training is going very well. The main jobs of the volunteers will be to act as mini ‘opening ceremonies’, meeting the teams off the planes, meeting officials and the VIPs etc. We will be mobilising these 1,000 volunteers to see off 720 departing flights on the 13th.

MG: I hear you regularly run marathons yourself?

NC: Well, I’ve done the London event a few times. I can’t do it this year obviously. I’m okay, around about the three hour mark. Perhaps I’ll do it again in 2013.

 

Biography

Nick Cole is Head of Olympic and Paralympic Planning and Operations at BAA which includes all aspects of airport operations throughout the London Games. Nick previously worked as Operations Manager for Heathrow’s Terminal 5.

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