Executive charter and corporate aircraft operators have complained that they have been unable to get slots at London Northolt Airport since NetJets started using the facility as a forward operating base in December. Under a deal struck with newly formed Northolt Business Aviation to use hangar 311 at the Royal Air Force base, NetJets is entitled to 200 slots per month, accounting for one-third of the 7,000 civil movements permitted annually by the Ministry of Defence.
At the annual conference of Britain’s General Aviation Manufacturers and Traders Association (GAMTA), several operators argued that the arrangement breaches what is supposed to be a first-come, first-served arrangement for slot allocation at Northolt. However, a NetJets spokesman insisted that it does not have an exclusive contract at the airfield.
GAMTA chief executive Graham Forbes said he received an assurance from the RAF station commander at Northolt that NetJets is not being assigned slots in a way that discriminates against other operators. He told his members that slots had been particularly hard to secure during both December and January due to unexpectedly high levels of demand. The problem had been compounded by the fact that a new RAF dispatcher had not realized that civil slots are supposed to be apportioned gradually to ensure that the annual quota is not exhausted too quickly and had given away too many slots in a single day.
Northolt Handling, the airport’s only licensed FBO, said that the allocation of 200 slots each month to NetJets could prove problematic for other operators in months when only around 250 total slots are available. Depending on demand levels through the course of the year, up to 500 or so slots can be made available in other months, and at these times the NetJets quota does not impinge on other aircraft operators who use the airport.
Northolt Business Aviation leases hangar 311 from the UK government’s Defence Estates agency and makes it available to NetJets on a commercial basis. The hangar was formerly used by three corporate flight departments that have now either closed or moved on, namely Granada, UPC and Dravidian. Northolt Business Aviation is run by Granada’s former chief pilot, Peter Riley.
Based operators have always enjoyed greater flexibility at Northolt, being permitted by the RAF to operate outside the standard hours for civil movements, which are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays.