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Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK


Q & A: The London Eye

What happens if it stops mid-way? Spokesman for the British Airways London Eye, Jamie Bowden, answers this and other questions:

When will the London Eye wheel be in place?

After the setback in September, the wheel is due to be lifted onto its spindle and into place on Saturday, 16 October.

The elevation process started the week before, when the wheel was lifted to 30° and then 65°. The massive "A" frame structure that held it in place was dismantled on Thursday.

The final stage will involve four huge cables cantilevering it over the Thames - a process that will take about four hours.

[ image: Jamie Bowden: The hitch did not set back the programme]
Jamie Bowden: The hitch did not set back the programme
What happens then?

The drive and brake mechanisms will be clamped into place and initial rotation tests should begin next week.

The 32 capsules will be attached to the wheel starting 1 or 2 November, at the rate of about four a day. The capsules will attach to the outer rim and each will have an individual motor to rotate them as the wheel goes round.

When will the wheel be up and running?

It will be running for Millennium eve, though not open to the public. It will be for invited guests only, but we are looking to run a competition to get members of the public on board.

The wheel will open to the general public from the second week of January.

Who will be first to ride on the London Eye?

I wish it were me, but the first people to ride it are going to have to be safety engineers.

After that we are not sure who the first official guest will be. I'm sure the British Airways chief executive, Bob Ayling, and project director, Paul Baxter, will be towards the front of the queue.

[ image: Almost there: The wheel at 65°]
Almost there: The wheel at 65°
Has the hitch in September set back the overall schedule?

No, not really. It gave us time to get on with other things like building the boarding platform for the public, sorting out commissioning work for the capsules and installing the lighting and electricity system.

However, it clearly put more pressure on the project and made the deadline tighter.

How much will the ride cost, and what will it be like?

The fare will be £7.45 for adults and £4.95 for children, which covers one full rotation.

The wheel will move at 0.26 metres per second, so a full rotation will take half-an-hour.

Each capsule will hold up to 35 people and customers will board as it moves slowly around. Capsules will be heated in the winter and air conditioned in summer. There will be an on-board audio commentary.

How many people are you expecting?

It will be open 8am to past sunset in the summer and 10am to 6pm in the winter. We are expecting to see 15-17,000 customers a day, so between two and three million a year.

What happens if it breaks down and stops?

In that very remote instance, there are back-up diesel generators to turn the wheel. If these fails, there is very little friction in the wheel and two men can pull it round with a piece of rope.

In the very, very unlikely event of the wheel getting stuck, we have in place a plan to evacuate people. It involves a team of people who will go up the wheel and evacuate customers with ropes.

What is its lifespan?

It has planning permission for five years, in which time we expect to make back the £35m investment. But the structure is built to last a lot longer so maybe it will become a permanent fixture.

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