The visit started with the GAC visitors meeting in Terminal 3, where our hosts from NATS completed the formalities for the issue of our temporary airside passes. We then had a 20 minute walk to the Control Tower, where we had an introductory talk and briefing from Adrian Dolan who is one of the senior air traffic controllers at Heathrow. Adrian Gave a fascinating insight in to the complexity of managing such a busy operation which handles 1350 aircraft movements every day.
After lunch, the GAC visitors then broke in to two groups for a visit to the control tower. At 87m above ground level, we travelled in the external lift which presented a panoramic view of the Heathrow operation. On reaching the visual control room at the top of the tower, it was obvious just how busy the controllers were but also that they were reassuringly calm. We had an in depth explanation of the operation from our hosts and spent about 30 minutes in the tower.
Once we had descended from the control tower, the group was taken airside by Simon Newbold, who is a key member of the Airside management team at Heathrow. In a Heathrow minibus, Simon gave a fascinating tour along taxiways and aircraft parking stands, explaining how the ground operation works and all the other many complex processes that ensure that Heathrow runs efficiently and safely. Did you know that Heathrow has 50 miles of Airside service roads? That in itself is quite a challenge to police!
Our Airside tour took about an hour and once we had returned to the control tower building, we then went to Heathrow House, where Dan, one of our NATS hosts, allowed us an incredibly rare opportunity to look at the Heathrow control tower simulator. The layout in the simulator is exactly the same as the actual control tower, and it allows new controllers to practice Heathrow procedures in a very realistic but low risk training environment. The simulator has full 360° vision, so you really feel like you are in the real control tower!
Our day at Heathrow came to an end at about 3.30pm giving us time to say our goodbyes to such fantastic hosts and to be ahead of the traffic on the M25 for our journey home.
Seventy two million passengers a year pass through Heathrow but very, very few ever get to see the inside of the control tower or behind the scenes at such a busy Airport. The GAC visitors all felt very privileged to have had that opportunity.