The only thing likely to distract attention from the action on the road will be the whirring of helicopters in the skies above. The inaugural Rally Ireland WRC will transform a small part of Ireland into the aerial epicentre of Europe. More than...
The only thing likely to distract attention from the action on the road will be the whirring of helicopters in the skies above. The inaugural Rally Ireland WRC will transform a small part of Ireland into the aerial epicentre of Europe.
More than 60 helicopters will fly between 50 separate, cross-border landing sites. The operation will shade the air transport logistics of all major sporting events previously held in Ireland, including last year's Ryder Cup.
"Given the number of helicopters involved and the various sites it is fair to say we expect the operation to exceed the movements at Dublin, Shannon and Cork combined," according to Se Pardy, Aerial Events Manager for Celtic Helicopters, who also handled the logistics at the Ryder Cup in Co Kildare last summer. "There may have been more helicopters landing at the K Club but it was concentrated on a single site."
The sheer complexity of aerial operations is dictated by the unprecedented number of sites involved, which will require full ground-handling facilities, including measures to deal with accidents and emergencies. The major hub at Sligo IT will also require security, check-in, refueling and maintenance facilities.
In the air and on the ground safety will, of course, remain the biggest priority. Air traffic control will ensure helicopters comply with mobile exclusion zones, designed to ensure chopper pilots don't distract the rally drivers in their desire to get as close as possible to the action. The volume of sites and number of choppers concentrated in a relatively small area makes co-ordination vital.
"We have had full support from Sligo and Enniskillen airports, where we have had meetings for the past eight months," Pardy explained. "We have also surveyed every site, which mainly consist of playing pitches and farmers' fields."
Fixed wing aircraft also comes into play in ensuring that the event runs smoothly, with Aer Arann set to transport all the top competitors from Sligo to George Best Belfast City Airport, just two miles from the Stormont Estate, on Thursday for the Super Special Stage and opening ceremonies.
An additional plane will fly over the rally route throughout the event, loaded with high-tech gadgetry that receives signals from the competing cars and bounces them back down to Rally Headquarters, ensuring that timing information and the car's locations are tracked to within hundredths of a second.
Most of the helicopters are privately owned and all of them will have been registered prior to the event. Those fortunate enough to experience the event in the air will obviously benefit by being able to see more of the rally and by gaining access to the kind of terrain that can be difficult to reach by road.
The rally caps a busy year for Pardy who, aside from the Ryder Cup, has already handled many high-profile events, including the Bray Air Show and the Budweiser Irish Derby. He is confident the rally will represent his biggest success to date.
"Arnold Palmer cited our handling of the Ryder Cup as 'a triumph of organisation'. It was a great endorsement but we judge our success on being appointed to an event the next time round and we are always determined to get things right."