Oxford traffic ascends as bizav downturn lifts

 - May 4, 2010, 4:41 AM

The UK’s Oxford Airport (Booth No. 1359) is achieving recession-busting traffic figures. For the period from April 2009 to March 2010 there was a 31.6-percent increase in the numbers of all visiting aircraft (including scheduled airline services) and a 12-percent increase in all business aviation movements.

By contrast, according to Eurocontrol data, airports across Europe on average saw a 12-percent dip in business aviation traffic last year. The Oxford growth trend seems to be continuing with a 25-percent increase in bizav movements during the first quarter of 2010, compared with the same period in 2009.

The privately owned airport now handles an average of 20 business aircraft movements each day and jet fuel sales are up by 47 percent. At the current growth rate, Oxford expects to receive 6,000 movements this year, having earlier projected an annual rate of around 5,000 movements. The growth in traffic has included an increase in the number of large business jets using the facility, including Gulfstream G550s and the Dassault Falcon 7X.

Over the past 12 months, Oxford has introduced Category 6 fire-and-rescue service, allowing the airport to receive aircraft up to the size of a Boeing Business Jet. These aircraft would have payload and range restrictions and would probably not have transatlantic range from Oxford’s 4,328-foot runway (licensed length; full length is 5,095 feet). The airport’s standard weekday opening hours are 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., with extended hours available with prior notice.

Oxford Airport has a full-time police presence, as well as Customs and immigration clearance. Unlike some other London-area business aviation gateways, Oxford does not yet have to pay the UK Borders Agency to provide Customs and immigration services. However, along with other British airports, it is concerned about the prospect of having to pay for police service due to government budget cuts.
From May 2, car rental company Enterprise has a permanent presence at Oxford. According to the airport, this will make it the first UK general aviation facility to have cars available to rent on-site throughout the week.

By December, construction is scheduled to be completed on a hangar almost 48,000 sq ft in size. This will mean that, since 2006, the airport will have increased total available hangar space by 78 percent to 240,500 sq ft. Several companies have already expressed interest in using the new building.

Another major investment this year is the $1.2 million being spent on a new communications system for Oxford’s air traffic control tower. This is a first step toward installing radar at the airport–an upgrade that could cost as much as $7.5 million, depending on whether the system can be linked to the radar at the nearby Brize Norton Royal Air Force base. To safeguard its airspace, Oxford Airport has had to lobby against several proposals to develop wind-turbine energy installations within a 20-mile radius.

Last year, Oxford unilaterally renamed itself London Oxford Airport despite the fact that it is approximately 65 miles from central London and is not officially designated by IATA or ICAO as a London airport. Nonetheless, business aircraft passengers heading for the UK capital’s northwestern suburbs and surrounding counties certainly could find Oxford more convenient than other London-area airports closer to the city center. There are plans to build a rail station close to the airport that would offer 58-minute rides into London.

Here at the EBACE show, Oxford Airport is represented by managing director Steve Jones; James Dillon-Godfray, head of marketing and development; David Surley, head of customer services; and Laura Conaty, customer services representative. They’ll also be treating EBACE attendees to local real ales from Oxfordshire at its exhibit stand each day from 4 p.m.

Local Operators Grow

There are now seven business aircraft operators permanently based at Oxford Airport. The largest of these is Hangar 8 (Booth No. 998), which manages 26 jets on behalf of their private owners. Here at EBACE, Hangar 8 is displaying a Hawker 900XP, as well as its new Hawker 4000 large-cabin model, which will be used for demonstration flights. It is now the second largest Hawker operator in Europe.

FlairJet comes to Geneva with a real sense of vindication for the slow-and-steady growth plan that has seen it enter the fledgling European very light jet market ahead of more flamboyant start-ups like JetBird, which is now stalled due to cash starvation. Like JetBird, Oxford-based FlairJet has gone with Embraer’s Phenom family.

Later this month, FlairJet expects to take delivery of its third Phenom 100 and in July it is due to take delivery of its first Phenom 300. According to CEO David Fletcher, negotiations are under way with a prospective aircraft owner to add a second Phenom 300 at the same time.

The company expects to have six Phenoms by year-end but will likely cap its growth at that point so as not to be overextended in what remains an uncertain marketplace. In 2012, it is due to take delivery of the first Phenom owned directly by the operator.

FlairJet is financially backed by three high-powered London attorneys whom Fletcher said have insisted on a fastidious approach to setting up the management/charter operation. The company, which is staffed by experienced airline pilots and operations managers, received its UK air operator’s certificate in December after an application process that took just four months. It has taken several other new light jet operators more than a year to get their AOCs.

“The key [to getting the AOC so quickly] was having a good team,” said Fletcher. “It wasn’t luck; it was having staff who had done this before, which convinced the CAA [UK Civil Aviation Authority] that from day one we do not cut corners.”

According to Fletcher, FlairJet’s first three months of operation resulted in charter demand that was 30 percent above its conservative projections. “March was fairly slow, but April appears to be better,” he told AIN at a press briefing on April 16 (the day after much of Europe’s airspace was closed by a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland).

Competing in the charter market against Cessna Citation Mustangs and CJ1s, the Phenom 100s have been flying on about three or four days each week with flights averaging one hour and 20 minutes and 2.4 passengers. FlairJet had planned on each aircraft flying an average of 400 revenue hours in the first year of operation, but it now says it is ahead of that projected utilization rate. The company currently employs nine pilots and has on its roll two more who are training for their Phenom type rating.

Iceland-based Icejet uses Oxford as the northern European base for its fleet of Dornier 328Jets. The company has just formed a strategic alliance with Swiss charter operator JetCom Aviation whereby Icejet will manage the operations of JetCom’s 31-seat 328Jet. Icejet’s fleet already includes a 14-seat 328Jet and an all-business-class 19-seat version.

The JetCom aircraft is flying regular corporate shuttles between Exeter and Farnborough in the UK and Milan Malpensa Airport in northern Italy. Icejet has contracted Oxford-based EBAS to provide maintenance for the Dornier fleet.
Air ambulance specialist AirMed is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and has added a second Bombardier Learjet 35A to a fleet that already includes one other Learjet 35, plus four turboprops and three piston-powered models. Managing director Rupert Dent said revenues are already on track to be greater than those recorded in 2009. He said the emergency medical evacuation market has not been as adversely impacted by the recession as some other aspects of the air charter business.

PremiAir, a company better known for its rotorcraft operations, has its fixed-wing AOC and its first managed aircraft in the shape of a Hawker Beechcraft Premier I owned by its parent company the von Essen Group. The aircraft is available for charter, and the company, which has an extensive maintenance operation at Oxford, has appointed former TAG Aviation executive Neil Gibson to run its charter and management division.