Air Force One Disrupted 40,000 Passengers At Heathrow In 2008

On June 15th, 2008, former United States President George W. Bush arrived at London Heathrow. It is fair to say that it was no quiet entry. Dozens of flights were canceled, and the plans of 40,000 passengers had been affected.

George W. Bush arrived with First Lady Laura Bush to talk with Gordon Brown, the United Kingdom’s prime minister at the time. Photo: Getty Images

Making an entrance

The arrival of a Boeing 747 carrying the president is a significant operation in itself. However, the jumbo was joined by another 747, a 767, and four helicopters. As a result of accommodating Bush’s entourage, services were rocked at the UK’s largest airport that day.

Disruptions began two days before Bush’s visit, and they lasted for another two days after Air Force One landed. Notably, Heathrow Airport was operating with only one runway for half an hour on June 15th and 16th.

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A parliamentary matter

Several Members of Parliament (MPs) weren’t best pleased with how the US president arrived. On June 24th, 2008, a motion was tabled regarding the matter, which 40 MPs signed. However, one person withdrew their signature.

“This House is appalled to learn that the arrival of President Bush at Heathrow Airport forced the cancellation of over 60 flights affecting the travel plans of over 40,000 passengers and delayed for over 30 minutes the departure of a further 260 planes; sympathises with British Airways, which cancelled 53 short-haul flights,” the motion states.

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“[The motion] notes with astonishment that one of the Airport’s two runways was closed for rehearsals for the arrival of the Presidential party and again for its actual arrival and departure.”

Those that signed the motion also agreed with Willie Walsh, British Airways’ chief executive at the time, who said that the three aircraft and four helicopters should have landed at a military airport. Altogether, they called for the government to use a military field for all future presidential arrivals.

Air Force One, Joe Biden, United Kingdom
Air Force One is the official ATC call sign for a US Air Force aircraft carrying the US President – currently, two Boeing 747-200B (VC-25A) aircraft serve this role. Photo: Getty Images

Still spotted

A mix of Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Social Democratic & Labour Party, and Independent MPs signed the motion. However, no official amendments have been submitted since.

Air Force One still regularly lands at commercial airports in the UK. Registration VC-25A famously touched down at Cornwall Airport Newquay, carrying President Joe Biden, this June. There were reports that the UK spent almost £8 million ($11 million) to upgrade the runway for the Queen of the Skies to land. However, in reality, the money was spent on wider improvements to taxiways and aprons to accommodate the arrival and parking of many large aircraft, along with security arrangements, during the G7 Summit.

According to The Independent, VC-25A was also spotted at Heathrow Airport during Biden’s stay in the UK that same month. Nonetheless, with such a reduced schedule amid the strict requirements of the pandemic, operations may have been far less impacted this time.

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All in all, despite the frustrations, Air Force One has been spotted at different UK airports over the years. Former President Donald Trump had the pleasure of landing at London Stansted two years ago when visiting the Queen.

Stansted AIr Force One
Stansted has a dedicated area to handle the security needs of such aircraft without causing considerable disruption. Photo: Stansted Airport

It’s not just the UK that has had to consider these factors. The arrival of the president has taken its toll on operations across the globe, such as in India last year.

What are your thoughts about this event in June 2008? What do you make of the broader factors to consider amid the arrival of Air Force One? Let us know what you think in the comment section.

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