Ever since I began a commercial helicopter flight-training course I’d hoped I would get the chance to fly the London heli lanes. I knew the views of the capital from the air would be something special and having recently ticked this particular item off my aviation bucket list I can confirm it didn’t disappoint!
The heli lanes are a series of very specific helicopter routes that enable pilots to transit through, and operate safely within, the London control zone. As you can imagine, with Heathrow and London City airports plus Battersea heliport on the Thames the airspace is extremely busy. Add that to the fact that you’re flying over a very densely populated area with several tall buildings – it’s not something to be taken lightly – especially in a single engine helicopter.
That said, with good ATC communication and by accurately following the prescribed routes at the correct altitude, they can be flown safely and legally. From the pilots perspective it’s pretty high workload, certainly some of the busiest I’ve experienced so far because there are so many things to monitor and do simultaneously.
I began by planning the flight meticulously, much of which I was able to do at home a few days before the flight. We decided to fly down to Elstree, located just to the North of the London control zone, top up with fuel and start the heli lanes flight from there. Fully fuelled we made some orbits outside controlled airspace until a gap in transmission allowed me to make my initial radio call and we were soon given permission to enter the zone.
Once inside there’s a lot to do. You need to make sure you’re right over the correct route line and once on the river, staying to one side to let opposite direction traffic pass you.
I was so focussed on trying to fly accurately, look out for traffic and monitor the radio that I wasn’t able to take in the views as much as I’d have liked. However, I did have my cameras set up to capture the action. You can watch the full video here: https://youtu.be/o8VuA5PinXM
I lived in London for 18 months in 2010/11 so it was very cool to see some of my old haunts from the air on a bright autumn day. If you’re a helicopter pilot (or know someone who is) and you get the chance to do the lanes, I’d highly recommend it. It is challenging flying, but it’s totally achievable and I feel a real sense of accomplishment having done it.