TAG Farnborough keeps on growing

 - September 14, 2006, 11:44 AM

At a time when business aviation in Europe is finding it ever harder to expand its infrastructure because of land scarcity and local opposition, TAG Aviation has inaugurated a business aviation terminal that is arguably the finest in Europe. Britain’s Prince Andrew officially opened the new building at the London-area Farnborough Airport last month in a ceremony attended by many top industry executives en route to the EBACE show in Geneva.

Office space in the 50,000-sq-ft, three-story terminal is now almost full, with high-profile tenants such as airframers Bombardier, Cessna and Embraer, as well as executive charter firm Starflight and an oil industry corporate flight department that operates a Global Express. The aircraft management and charter operation of TAG Aviation UK is also based in the new building. Twenty tenants now operate from the adjoining hangar, which includes its own offices.

TAG now has 270,000 sq ft of hangar space at Farnborough. The group’s board of directors has just given the go-ahead for construction of another 120,000-sq-ft hangar, mirroring the wave-shaped design of the existing complex. This facility will probably open in 2008.

The glass-fronted Farnborough terminal offers unobstructed views of TAG’s vast ramp space. Its metallic cladding glistens in whatever sunlight the British weather has to offer. Passengers and crew can be welcomed in a spacious atrium area, or accompanied directly through to the airside via a gate by the side of the building. Farnborough is a private airport, run by TAG under a 99-year lease from the UK Ministry of Defence.

Next to the atrium on the ground floor is the main passenger lounge. Just beyond this is a spacious private lounge that can be partitioned off for privacy.

The building also offers a 30-seat boardroom that is fully equipped with audiovisual equipment for presentations. There is also a private dining room and a cafe with a full kitchen that can provide catering for flights. Also on the ground floor is a good-sized bathroom with shower.

Customs, immigration and police officers have their own premises in the terminal. The facility is equipped to handle the security checks that are required for flights operated under commercial rules (for aircraft weighing more than 10 tons or with 20 or more seats). TAG can screen cabin and hold baggage and has a mobile X-ray machine for greater flexibility.

Passengers on private flights that do not have to be security screened can get from the Farnborough Airport entrance gate to their aircraft steps in barely five minutes. The process for commercial flights can be achieved in 10 minutes.

On the second floor of the new terminal TAG houses its flight operations suite. Close to this is a pilot lounge with high-speed Internet access and reclining seats for naps.

Traffic Growth Approaches
This year Farnborough is expected to receive 21,000 movements (an almost 8-percent rise on the 19,500 handled last year). Under an agreement with the local Rushmoor Borough Council, the airport is restricted to 28,000 movements each year–a limit that it is set to reach by 2010 at current rates of growth.

Each year no more than 2,500 movements are permitted on weekends and public holidays (equating to an average of around 44 per weekend). TAG has applied to local officials to double this allowance to 5,000 movements, but this application has met with stiff opposition.

Seeking a compromise, TAG has offered to stagger the increase over three years. It also agreed to defer the final council hearing on the issue until after local elections that took place last month. The company hopes that the issue will then be less politically sensitive. However, if Rushmoor rejects the application, TAG can appeal to central government, and its lawyers are confident of winning the decision.

According to TAG Farnborough FBO director Len Rayment, the increased flexibility for weekend movements is crucial for Farnborough’s viability as a business aviation gateway. “If we don’t get the increase, it will be more and more difficult for smaller aircraft to get access,” he told AIN.

Last year, TAG had to turn away about 1,500 aircraft that wanted to use Farnborough on weekends. Rayment is concerned that this may discourage some operators from using the airport during the week.

TAG already feels compelled to reject smaller turboprop aircraft on weekends. These can be accommodated easily at nearby Blackbushe Airport and can be accepted at Farnborough on technical diversions without affecting the movements limit. On weekends, a minimum landing/handling charge of £500 ($915) applies.

Farnborough combined landing/ handling fees range from around £200 ($366) for a King Air to £2,000 ($3,660) for a Boeing Business Jet. Standard operating hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays (with extensions possible until 10 p.m. with a surcharge). Weekend and public-holiday hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The TAG Group now has ambitions of expanding the aircraft support infrastructure available at Farnborough. In particular, it wants to have more capability for maintaining avionics, engines and wheels and brakes.

From its 60,000-sq-ft hangar, TAG Farnborough Engineering already provides line maintenance for a wide variety of business aircraft and is especially experienced with Raytheon Beechcraft and Hawker types. It is talking to Bombardier about the possibility of establishing a factory-authorized service center at the UK airport. Harrods Aviation already has an engine overhaul shop at the airport.

“Farnborough has certainly become an address to have in business aviation, and some companies have made a Europe-wide search before choosing to be based here,” said Rayment. TAG will probably include additional office space in the hangar complex that is to be built.

The company also has approval to build a new 170-room hotel at Farnborough. This will likely open by the end of next year and will include a mix of three-and-a-half and four-and-a-half-star accommodations.