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why don't world leaders/governments use LHR when meeting in London?

Tue Sep 10, 2019 2:32 pm

I don't if this counts in this forum, because I know VIP Transport aircraft are also part of a country's air force for the most part, but I'm not sure if it counts in this forum.
anyways, here's my question, why don't world governments use LHR when meeting London? is because LHR charge higher rates to Governments? is it because its congested? JFK is almost as congested LHR, but still accepts VIP/Government Transport when the UN meets in NYC.
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Re: why don't world leaders/governments use LHR when meeting in London?

Tue Sep 10, 2019 3:17 pm

Not familiar with the London airport situation: What airport do they use?

And a short search reveals this SO answer:
"The short answer is :

You could. But GA traffic is heavily discouraged both in terms of fees and policies.

Longer answer:

Most of the time, the only private jets you'll find at Heathrow are those operated by heads of state and their respective governments who, for whatever reason, feel they absolutely must land at Heathrow.

Most private private jet traffic that needs to be as close as humanly possible to Central London goes to RAF Northolt. A military airfield that's (pretty much) the same distance to Central London as Heathrow. But its far less busy than Heathrow (and probably cheaper too, I don't know the prices off the top of my head).

The added benefit of Northolt is that security is (obviously) MUCH higher than Heathrow. Which makes the job of keeping your VIPs safe (and the paparazzi and unwashed masses away from them) much easier.

Military needs obviously take priority at RAF Northolt in terms of availability, but most of the time its not a problem. The RAF do most of their stuff from bases outside London out of respect for the NIMBYs."
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Re: why don't world leaders/governments use LHR when meeting in London?

Wed Sep 11, 2019 3:33 am

The correct term for government planes is “state” aircraft. For UN meetings, it’s frequently a drop at JFK and reposition to SWF, CEF or elsewhere for RONs. Northolt is close in, but runway length is too short for airliner sized state aircraft. FAB, STN, BZZ or MLD are other options.
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Re: why don't world leaders/governments use LHR when meeting in London?

Wed Sep 11, 2019 7:41 am

"I'm so worried about the baggage retrieval system they've got at Heathrow..."

-- Monty Python, "I'm so worrried" song (

Yeah, LHR is not terribly suited for an Air Force One and its security needs... they need space, space, safety, time, space safety and more time.
Reading accident reports is what calms me down
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Re: why don't world leaders/governments use LHR when meeting in London?

Wed Sep 11, 2019 11:05 am

mxaxai wrote:
Not familiar with the London airport situation:

Historically, civilian biz-jet traffic heading for London was 99% LHR, but that was back in the 70's when biz-jets were less common, and at Heathrow you could even find light twins mixing it with the airliner traffic. (see photos)
Military and pseudo-military transports were split between LHR and RAF Northolt. If it was a head-of-state coming on a personal shopping trip for Xmas, they slipped quietly into Northolt. If it was a full state visit, they used Heathrow and made the front page.
Luton had a small biz-jet community of it's own
Gatwick was chosen by very few.
Biggin Hill was strictly GA even though it had a decent runway.
And Stansted wasn't even on the list.

Since then, much has changed.
For a start, the area for biz-jets at Heathrow was demolished many years ago in favor of Terminal 4.
Larger (airliner size) jets would have been parked near the fuel farm, or lost somewhere in the Cargo Center, but neither of those are an option anymore either.

Both Northolt and Biggin Hill have more recently developed dedicated biz-jet facilities that I suspect basically inherited areas of the airfield left vacant as the RAF presence shrunk or vanished completely. Landing charges at these sites are obviously much lower than Heathrow, and there may also be a "feel-good factor" from having the shiniest toy on the apron and being the only VIP in the terminal, as opposed to getting lost in mountains of human traffic at Heathrow.

Luton now has a massive biz-jet community of it's own, and naturally attracts visiting a/c too.

However, none of the three above has either the runway length or ground facilities to handle the biggest jets that some heads of state seem to need these days, hence Stansted has become #1 choice for the really big boys.

Here are some memories of the old Heathrow business aviation area before it was lost under Teminal 4.
Firstly a Cessna 310 together with a PA-23, next the biggest baddest executive toy of that era, the Playboy DC-9 N950PB, and finally… on a really good day, there might be as many as two Gulfstreams.

And to help with context, some wider shots showing the whole landscape at LHR in the 70's. In the distance, behind the MSA 707, three biz-jets parked up in front of the Pan Am maintenance hangar, and facing the "Field Aviation Services" / "Hunting" hangars adjacent to the old business aviation area. At a wild guess, they are (L to R) N10XY, N655GP, and N228Z
The second photo shows a much wider angle and includes the prominent "Hunting" logo on the back of the hangars that were home to a clutch of British registered HS.125s.

(note the Air France 727 with it's dirty tail; plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose)
Nothing to see here; move along please.
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Re: why don't world leaders/governments use LHR when meeting in London?

Wed Sep 11, 2019 1:40 pm

After working for a ME VVIP government carrier I can shed a little light on the subject. First of all, there has to be slot coordination and many times slots are not available for operations into LHR. There are a few unused slots at LHR which can be used on a one-off basis and if it's there, you can apply to use it. Same for the departure, although, for some reason, getting departure slots seems more consistent. There were a few times where we used STN for arrival and then ferried the aircraft to LHR for departure. However, doing that is a PITA. When we traveled, there was an armed security detail and they had to surrender their weapons to the police. So, when you leave, you have to get them back. That takes an unbelievable amount of time. At LHR, it is very quick and on departure, the MET is generally at the aircraft with the weapons ready for delivery.

Plus the passenger(s) do not like going into any other airport other than LHR. It is closer to where their palace(s) and it makes more of a grand arrival possible.
If we weren't all crazy we'd all go insane!
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Re: why don't world leaders/governments use LHR when meeting in London?

Thu Sep 12, 2019 9:54 am

SheikhDjibouti wrote:
Historically, ...

Wow! Thanks for the summary.

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