RAF Chief visits Olympics airspace control centre

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The head of the Royal Air Force has visited Swanwick to meet air traffic controllers managing British skies during the Olympic Games.

The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, visited the Royal Air Force unit, which is run by National Air Traffic Services (NATS), the UK’s air traffic control service, earlier this week. The RAF air traffic controllers in the London Air Traffic Control Centre (Military) - known as LATCC (Mil) - work alongside their civilian counterparts at Swanwick to ensure the safe movement of thousands of aircraft every day.

A special control centre, known as Atlas, has been set up at Swanwick for the Olympic Games when the air traffic controllers will have responsibility for managing the extra airspace restrictions in place around London.

The important role of the LATCC (Mil) has been recognised with the dedication of a Harrier as a ‘gate guardian’. Traditionally, retired aircraft symbolically guard the entrances of some Royal Air Force units. Harrier XW917 previously stood at the gate of RAF Cottesmore in Rutland.

Air Chief Marshal Dalton unveiled the new gate guardian at Swanwick before heading to Fort Worth, Dallas, in the United States, to join the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, in accepting the first Lightning II fighter jet.

Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton with Air Cadets from 1350 (Fareham and District) Squadron
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton with Air Cadets from 1350 (Fareham and District) Squadron at the Air Traffic Control Centre in Swanwick [Picture: Senior Aircraftman Ben Tritta, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]

During his visit to Swanwick, Air Chief Marshal Dalton said:

I am delighted to unveil this aircraft today at Swanwick where there is a great partnership between RAF and civilian air traffic controllers. Together, they are currently doing a fantastic job managing our skies and are ready to ensure that we have a safe and secure Olympics for everyone.

The Harrier first flew in the 1960s and was a remarkable aircraft, but shortly I will be travelling to the United States with the Secretary of State for Defence, the Right Honourable Philip Hammond MP, as he receives Britain’s first Lightning II.

“The fifth-generation Lightning will give the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy advanced reconnaissance and attack capabilities with the ability to operate from the land or the sea. Flying alongside the increasingly capable multi-role Typhoon, it will give Britain a powerful, effective Combat-ISTAR [intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance] capability for years to come.”

While at Swanwick, Air Chief Marshal Dalton toured the control centre, observing the work of civilian NATS controllers as well as their military colleagues. He also met the NATS Chief Executive Officer, Richard Deakin.

Mr Deakin said:

We have had a long and successful relationship with our colleagues in the military, especially with their RAF unit colocated with us at Swanwick. This has never been more obvious than right now with our joint management of airspace to ensure a safe Olympic Games.

The addition of this Harrier aircraft as a gate guardian for Swanwick is a very real symbol of the working relationship we enjoy with our military colleagues.

Wing Commander John Pickering, Officer Commanding the LATCC (Mil), said:

It is an honour to host Air Chief Marshal Dalton. This visit is an acknowledgement of the vital role played by controllers on the ground - civilian and military - in ensuring the safety and security of our colleagues and the public, throughout the year and especially during the Olympic Games.