Recent decision could allow traffic increase at Farnborough

 - April 2, 2008, 6:31 AM

The UK government has approved an increase in weekend movements at London-area Farnborough Airport. On March 13, TAG Aviation won its appeal against an earlier local government decision not to allow an increase from 2,500 to 5,000 movements on weekends and public holidays.

The ruling, made jointly by the Secretaries of State at the Department of Transport and the Department of Communities and Local Government, came almost a year after the end of a public inquiry into the issue. Importantly, the grounds for granting TAG’s appeal draw strongly on recent central government aviation policy that favors increased business aviation traffic at airports such as Farnborough.

TAG believes the ruling could strengthen its case for having the overall annual limit of 28,000 movements increased. It intends to start preparing the case for doing this with a new long-term master plan for the privately owned airport that it wants to publish by the end of this year. This will outline how the company intends to deal with issues such as aircraft noise, pollution and road access to the site. Technically, Farnborough could handle at least 100,000 movements each year, but TAG does not expect to get approval for so many.

Crucially, the central government ruling places considerable weight on recent white papers dealing with airport capacity, suggesting that national aviation policy might be brought to bear in future applications to increase traffic in counter-balance to local planning policy. The March 13 ruling said that the two Secretaries of State “have had regard to the fact that the AWP [Future of Air Transport White Paper of December 2003] emphasizes the need to make the best use of existing capacity of the UK’s airports before supporting the provision of additional capacity.” The ruling also highlighted “the important role of the smaller airports in the southeast [of England] in helping to relieve pressure on the main airports before a new runway in the southeast is built.”

In preparing a new master plan for Farnborough as part of a bid to increase total annual movements, TAG’s legal team is likely to seize on the phrase “best use of existing capacity.” The British government is facing strong opposition to plans to build new runways at London’s Heathrow and Stansted airports. By shifting business aviation traffic to airports such as Farnborough, it would demonstrate that it is using other options to increase overall capacity.

TAG will soon start a public consultation campaign in a bid to win local residents’ support for its growth plans. According to TAG Farnborough chief executive Brandon O’Reilly, the company has spent a lot of time engaging with local residents associations to try to allay concerns about traffic growth at the airport.

Over the past two years, its Quiet Flying program has taken steps to alter flight patterns to reduce residents’ exposure to noise. It is now starting an experiment to cut noise over the nearby communities of Fleet and Church Crookham by having southbound departing aircraft turn 20-degrees to the left once they reach 500 feet.

Last year Farnborough Airport logged 26,507 movements, a 24-percent increase on the previous year. Even if this year shows a downturn in business aviation growth, it seems highly likely that Farnborough will hit the movement limit and will not be able to accept more traffic. January–normally a quiet month–saw traffic growth of almost 12 percent on the same period in 2007.

TAG is seeking approval to build three more sets of hangars to provide an additional 120,000 sq ft of covered aircraft parking space and offices for based operators. It is expecting a local government ruling on this application by the end of this month.