Installation of two Air Traffic Control Suites at the BAA Visitor Centre, Heathrow Airport


"On the Bench"


The things we let ourselves in for!

This started when the UK en-route air traffic control service provider, National Air Traffic Services Ltd (NATS) moved the control room handling traffic over the Southern part of the UK from the West Drayton control centre to the new en-route control centre at Swanwick in Hampshire. This move left a complete redundant control room in the West Drayton building, but unfortunatly, the space was needed, and the equipment had to go.

Myself and a colleague considered that some of the controllers desk equipment ought to be saved, as it was representative of a style of functional furniture that is fast disappearing, and as the desks themselves had seen nearly 30 years service, ableit with many electronic upgrades, it seemed a shame to throw it all in a skip.

With the permission of management, we 'phoned round several museums to try and find a home for some of the equipment, initialy many places showed interest, but then we started to get excuses (too busy to come and look, can you fund the transport, etc, etc). Finally only two places showed real interest, The RAF Museum at Hendon, and the BAA Visitor Centre at Heathrow Airport.

Both were looking for items to fit into displays celebrating 100 years of powered flight in 2003, and though that the suites would make an ideal display. Hendon have had a new building for the display, and were originally going to put the suites in an upstairs gallery, unfortunatly, there funding was cut, so they were unable to take the suite.

That left the BAA visitor centre, who were willing to take two control positions (desks), and fortunatly, were local.

A weeks work at the end of 2002 reduced the two positions to moveable chunks, which were loaded into a van and taken over to the BAA stores, pending assembly of the display.

Fast forward to September 2003......

I get a phone call from the manager of the visitor centre "can you come and put these suites together for us...." After an initial visit to decide on positioning and working hours, we took stock of the kit of parts and started to panic, you can forget a lot in a year.

We decide that, due to the size and weight of the parts, the work would have to be done when the centre was closed to the public, and after a bit of thought, we decided it could, for the most part be done in a single evening, so, enlisting some help, I set a date.

On the night.....

We arrived about 4:30pm, with the Visitor Centre due to close at 5:00pm, to be confronted with 6 pallets of equipment, and the official opening of the display a week away. Surprisingly, the furniture went back together in about 5 hours, leaving us a little tidying to do in a couple of days.

We went back and filled in some of the holes, and generally made the suites look as they did originally, ready for the opening of the display.

So here are a couple of pictures of the suites, at the end of the first evenings work.

The suites are now for display only, as the safety and maintainence issues of getting any of it to work are just too great, but they do give a good idea of the working environment of the Air Traffic Controller, and of the massive amount of technology that is required.



UPDATE 18th August 2007.

The Heathrow Visitor Centre has ceased to exist. I have not been able to find out what happened to the furniture and equipment, but suspect it has gone into a skip.

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