23rd May, 2012
Military personnel will take charge of airspace over much of south east England in seven weeks’ time and fighter jets will be stationed near the capital to respond to threats.
The MoD will control most of the airspace over the South East, in a wide area which pans from Brighton on the South Coast to locations 15 miles north of Stansted and Luton airports further north of London. The Thames estuary, from the east of the captial to the west, passed Reading, will also be carefully monitored.
Working out of the National Air Traffic Services (Nats) control centre at Swanwick, Hants, MoD staff will monitor all aircraft in the area during the Olympics.
However, civilian air traffic controllers will continue to guide jets carrying the extra 500,000 visitors expected during the Games into London airports.
The area under military control will stretch from Brighton on the south coast to positions 15 miles north of Stansted and Luton airports to the north, the Thames estuary in the east and to the west of Reading.
RAF jets will be stationed at Northolt, close to Heathrow, for the duration of the Games.
Charles Farr, head of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, who is in charge of the anti-terror strategy for the London Olympics, said that he was confident the aircraft would be able to respond to any airborne threat in good time.
He defended the deployment of Rapier missiles, mobile ground radar systems and the Navy as similar to the response at other recent Olympics.
A Home Office counterterror official told The Times: “The military have to exercise the capability they may be called on to use.”
The official added that ministers would make a final decision about the deployment of the military response.
The news of the MoD’s takeover comes as Heathrow Airport bosses have insisted they are ready for the Games, and the extra visitors, despite concerns about queues and security.
They believe that August 13, the day after the Olympics closing ceremony, will be the busiest day in the airport – the third largest in the world, according to a report last year – 93-year history.
Almost 138,000 passengers will be departing from Heathrow and the airport will have to deal with 25 per cent more luggage than usual, which amounts to 200,000 bags.
On Tuesday the Director of the Border Force for Heathrow, Marc Owen, said that customers would not endure long queues while going through passport control. All border desks, Owen said, would be manned from mid-July until the end of August and that be expected time targets to be met.
More than £20million has been invested in to Heathrow to help preparation, to ensure athletes and tourists can travel without any issues.