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London’sNew Heli Hotel

Battersea receives make-over in time for 50th birthday.

The London Heliport at Battersea is not so much getting a facelift for its 50th birthday next year – but more a head and body transplant. It will have its own passenger terminal incorporated into a brand new exclusive 70 room hotel. The idea- which is fast coming to fruition- was the brainchild of new owners von Essen Group- which not only owns the site- but also its operator PremiAir- the UK’s largest corporate helicopter charter and maintenance company.

Von Essen bought PremiAir from the Sir Robert McAlpine Group early last year- and within a month purchased London’s only CAA licensed public heliport at Battersea from Weston Aviation. According to PremiAir’s Group managing director- David McRobert- von Essen’s Chairman Andrew Davis had to move quickly to repel the grave risk of the heliport being sold to developers for a non-aviation related riverside development.

World Aircraft Sales Magazine visited the site in late April- and concluded that Battersea is not only saved as a heliport- but will become a world class facility when it opens in the first quarter of 2009.

Passengers landing at Battersea will have to walk just a few yards to the passenger terminal for hotel check-in- while luggage is taken directly from helicopter to hotel room. They can then avail themselves of the extensive luxury spa facilities- relax in a choice of bars- and eat at the hotel’s top floor- top-class restaurant offering panoramic views over the River Thames.

It’s been ‘business as usual’ as the hotel/passenger complex is built around the edge of the heliport- and when PremiAir moves into its new facility across the pan- its old single storey pre-fabricated terminal and car park will be demolished- thus releasing a little extra space for helio parking. Altogether the $14 million development includes the passenger terminal- a refurbished and taller control tower- and re-investment in new ground handling equipment. Future car parking will be available on two subterranean floors beneath the hotel complex.

The only ‘fly in the ointment’ is the heliport’s restrictive cap of 12-000 annual public helicopter movements (6-000 landings and 6-000 take-offs)- and despite the company’s introduction of higher flat fees and a first-come-first-served slot system- demand still far outweighs availability. McRobert says that his company has spent considerable time evaluating past annual movement records- checking business and leisure flights and their cyclical fluctuations- so that PremiAir doesn’t find itself in the disastrous position of having to close the heliport for a period each year- just to stay within the cap.

Military- Government- Royal Family- Police and Air Ambulance helicopter movements are allowed into Battersea on top of the 12-000 cap. According to 2007 Civil Aviation Authority figures there were 34-669 helicopter flights over London with 12-634 (36%) starting or finishing at Battersea. The survey shows that 78% of all flights were operated by twin-engine helicopters and that 11% (3-765) of the flights were police helicopter movements and 8% (2-677) air ambulance. So almost 19%- or one in five of all helicopter movements over London were either police or ambulance related.

McRobert- with his eye very much on how the public perceives helicopter noise- points out that 64% of all London helicopter over-flights have nothing to do with the operation at Battersea.

Olympic Heliport
PremiAir is also still trying to find an additional London heliport site which could be developed- licensed- and ready before the 2012 London Olympics. McRobert points out that London needs more than one heliport and the Olympics might just be the catalyst that drives the authorities to speed up any planning process once a site is found. London City Airport (LCY) managing director Richard Gooding has also been looking at potential heliport sites near his downtown regional airport for a number of years. LCY is not allowed helicopter operations apart from police and emergency air ambulance movements- but both he and McRobert perceive the desperate need for a helipad to service the nearby Canary Wharf business district.

McRobert says that despite a weakened economy- and fears about the credit crunch- PremiAir’s helicopter related businesses have started strongly this year. “We enjoyed a successful March with some 25 helicopters chartered for the Cheltenham horse racing festival- and we benefited from last minute bookings around the UK regions from senior business executives who were unwittingly inconvenienced by delays at Heathrow’s Terminal 5.”

McRobert says that as much as 30-40% of PremiAir’s charter flights are connecting flights to business jet arrivals at London’s airports. Some of the requests are last minute and radioed ahead by the corporate jet crew.

“Other aspects of the business are doing remarkably well- notably our managed helicopter portfolio - now 18 aircraft - with a newly accepted Eurocopter EC135 recently joining the fleet. PremiAir Engineering is busy with the refurbishment of helicopter interiors- plus a steady flow of avionics upgrades to meet new air traffic requirements.”

As a part of its managed fleet- PremiAir charters five Sikorsky S-76s- six Eurocopter AS355 Twin squirrels and a Bell 222 all with executive interiors.

More information from www.premiair.co.uk

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