By Tom Degun in London

airport 19-03-12March 19 - Four of Britain's leading airlines have warned the Government that there will be chaos at London's airports during the Olympic and Paralympic Games and have claimed the situation will cause major embarrassment to the country unless their concerns are quickly addressed.

In a blunt letter to transport chiefs, British Airways, bmi, Virgin Atlantic and easyJet have claimed that time is running out to tackle the expected surge in air traffic and its impact during the Olympics and said failure to address the problem could bring misery both visitors to the Games and the millions of regular travellers to the country.

"As the situation currently stands, the industry believes that there is a significant risk of severe delay and disruption at all of London's major airports unless urgent action is taken," said the joint letter signed by BA's director of operations Andy Lord, bmi's head of operations Sean Butler, Virgin's director of operations, safety and security Corneel Koster and easyJet's chief operations officer Warwick Brady.

"Time is running out to ensure that any changes to procedures and the appropriate training are in place prior to the Games."

Britain, already the sixth most visited country in the world but it is anticipated that an additional 700,000 international travellers will visit during the Olympics, which begin on July 27 and conclude on August 12.

Heathrow Airport, the official host airport of London 2012, is the third busiest airport in the world and will be the main point of entry for the Olympics and Paralympics, with around 80 per cent of people travelling to the Games from outside the United Kingdom set to pass through it.

But they face a huge logistical challenge as August 13, the day after the 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony, which is set to be the busiest in the airport's history with the number of bags expected to leave the airport set to be more than 25 per cent higher than usual peak times.

London Heathrow_Terminal_5
Meanwhile, around 15 per cent of the bags likely to be large sporting equipment such as canoes, pole vaults or bikes, which cannot be processed through normal baggage systems.

Businesses and airlines have long argued that Heathrow needs a third runway to cope with rising demand but the move has been consistently blocked by the Government because of environmental concerns.

The letter from the airlines highlighted six areas of major concern which include the resilience of air space in coping with the number of planes taking off and landing during the Olympics, the impact of any adverse weather and the effect any security incident might have.

It said air traffic controllers had put forward five proposals about prioritising flights in southeast England during the Games but these had been rejected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Meanwhile the Government's Department for Transport (DfT) was wrongly under the impression that the industry was happy with the steps that had been taken so far, they wrote.

"This is far from the truth," said the letter.

A meeting between the airlines, the DfT and CAA is planned for March 22 and the letter said it was vital that a deal was reached then.

"Failure to respond leaves the UK vulnerable to the type of major disruption that will cause significant reputational damage and would be foolhardy and reckless," it claimed.

A DfT spokeswoman said it had already promised a range of special measures to prevent scheduled air services from disruption, by increasing air space capacity as well as putting in temporary restrictions for some air traffic.

"We are confident that the majority of these additional issues have now been addressed and we look forward to discussing them with the airlines concerned at a meeting next week," she said.

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