Mail: "Doomed Ark Royal Could Have New Future... As A Floating Helipad On The Thames"

Sunday Times Article:

"Michael Smith Published: 20 February 2011

Ark Royal to be heliport

City tycoons could helicopter into London and land on the Royal Navy aircraft carrier, axed in October’s defence cuts, under plans to save the ship

Defence chiefs want Ark Royal, the retired Royal Navy aircraft carrier, to become a floating heliport on the Thames serving City tycoons.

It will be manned by an estimated 150 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including a number of disabled servicemen.

The 693ft long carrier, axed in last October’s defence cuts, could be operating as a heliport by May 2012 in time for the London Olympics.

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, the head of the navy, told The Sunday Times last week that the plan could safeguard the ship’s future.

General Sir David Richards, chief of the defence staff, added: “The idea of re-using HMS Ark Royal on the Thames is interesting, particularly if it supports veterans. I would be delighted in principle to see her in London.”

The carrier, currently in Portsmouth and due to be decommissioned next month, would be moored in the Royal Docks near City airport to ensure that a heliport does not breach noise pollution regulations. It is three times the size of the capital’s only other heliport at Battersea, in southwest London.

The heliport would provide quick links from the City to the main airports at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. It will be a short ride by river boat from the City and Westminster.

General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the army who is now chairman of the Homes for Heroes charity, said it was a “very exciting project which represents the holy grail for us in that it gives 150 veterans both jobs and housing”.

Paul Beaver, a director of the firm behind the bid, said: “It is much more than a commercial venture, it is inspirational. We’ll be providing work and housing for veterans and at the same time we will be saving one of the Royal Navy’s most iconic ships for the nation.”

Ark Royal was accepted into service in 1985 and served in the Iraq war.

Attempts by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to sell the vessel as a working carrier had failed to attract a bid from overseas navies.

The MoD’s disposal services authority, which confirmed this weekend that it was considering the heliport plan, is also examining other offers to pay £2m for the vessel as scrap or to buy it as a floating hotel or tourist attraction.

The heliport is expected to have start-up costs of £25m, rising to £100m over five years. The taxpayer would receive about £3m for the carrier.

A spokesman for Liam Fox, the defence secretary, said he was “receptive to anything that would save Ark Royal for the nation and certainly anything that would help veterans”.

Fox will be consulting Stanhope and is expected to make a decision shortly.

The Ark Royal is named in honour of the galleon that led England to victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588. Five Royal Navy ships have carried the name.

Beaver, a director of the heliport firm, which he refused to name, said it had received backing for the plans at a meeting in mid-January with Sir Simon Milton, the deputy mayor of London, and the Port of London Authority.

Talks have also been held with the navy to determine the best way of converting the carrier into a heliport.

It could provide a base for police helicopters and for the air ambulance, which is currently stationed at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel.

The Port of London Authority confirmed that it had held discussions with the company to ensure it would not cause navigation problems for other vessels using the river.

The Civil Aviation Authority said it had had discussions with the company over the possibility of using Ark Royal as a heliport but no application had been received.

Basing it on the Thames would give it immediate access to the main H4 helicopter route through London which runs along the river.

Single-engined helicopters are restricted by air traffic control to flying along the Thames for safety reasons, while twin-engined helicopters have much more freedom.

• The Royal Navy is looking to buy a fleet of maritime patrol aircraft for up to £1 billion just weeks after the MoD scrapped the new Nimrod aircraft at a cost of £3.6 billion.

The MoD confirmed last week that the navy wanted to buy its own maritime patrol aircraft to track enemy submarines replacing the Nimrods, which are being broken up for scrap.

The new RAF Nimrod MRA4s had not even come into service when the prime minister announced last October that as part of the strategic defence review he was scrapping Nimrod.

The navy, which was furious that RAF bosses had agreed to get rid of Nimrod, has already set up a team to buy a replacement and ensure that it is flown by the Fleet Air Arm.

The programme is being run by Commodore Simon Kings with a team made up of naval officers.

Navy chiefs have expressed concern about the loss of a maritime surveillance aircraft at a time when many countries, including China and Iran, are increasing their number of submarines."

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War Hero
Book Reviewer
I imagine as a 'civilian' operation there will be H&S concerns particularly over accommodation ... this isn't going to be cheap. But good, sensible idea if the numbers can be made to add up.


War Hero
Book Reviewer
It sounds like an excellent idea on the face of it, I just hope that the H&S brigade or some other idiot group of apparent "do-gooders" don't stick their oars in and get the idea bogged down in bureaucracy and make it stall to a halt.
Only 16 months to the start of the olympics, if this was given the green light it needs to be now, not after various commitee stages, like all good ideas I will not be holding my breath.
That ship could serve as a peice of standing history more worthy that that stupid eye thingy. I could not think of a more honorable use for it than that!
It sounds like an excellent idea on the face of it, I just hope that the H&S brigade or some other idiot group of apparent "do-gooders" don't stick their oars in and get the idea bogged down in bureaucracy and make it stall to a halt.
Alas its almost certain just that will happen knowing the UK
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