Oxford looks to become London-area alternative

 - October 2, 2008, 5:25 AM

The UK’s Oxford Airport has opened its new business aviation terminal, as owners The Reuben Brothers push ahead with ambitious expansion plans. The airport is marketing itself as a cost-effective alternative to London-area airports, as well as a convenient gateway to central southern England.

The PremiAir Group this month is relocating its fixed-wing maintenance division to Oxford, as part of a strategy to develop an aviation engineering hub at the airport (see box). Next May, Embraer Phenom 100 air taxi start-up FlairJet is set to establish a base there too.

Property developers The Reuben Brothers and the Dawnay Day investment group jointly purchased Oxford Airport in July last year for £40 million ($72 million) from former owner BBA Aviation, which had invested heavily in resurfacing and widening the runway and installing an ILS. In July 2008, The Reuben Brothers took full control of the airport after Dawnay Day offloaded assets to stem losses inflicted by fallout from the credit crunch.

The new 7,000-sq-ft FBO operates under the name Oxfordjet. Amenities include three lounges and meeting rooms, and extensive crew facilities, including showers and a kitchen. Greys of London has been appointed the airport’s official limousine service and the airport will soon have an Enterprise car rental office on site. It can also get discounted rates at prestigious local hotels such as the five-star Randolph in the center of Oxford.

According to James Dillon-Godfray, head of marketing and development, Oxford’s landing fees are between 30 and 50 percent less than those at airports such as London Biggin Hill and Farnborough Airport, where fees are significantly higher for smaller business jets. He estimated that Oxford’s handling charges are about 20 to 25 percent lower than those at other London-area airports.

For aircraft staying a full day or more, Oxford also claims to offer affordable parking rates. Dillon-Godfray said that the airport’s rates are about seven times less than those on the airport-controlled ramps of airports such as Luton, where business aircraft operators increasingly have to park when FBO ramps are full. He argued that the money saved over several days would easily pay for the 22-minute helicopter shuttle service to the London Heliport, which is priced at just under £1,500.

Oxford is open from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. seven days a week, and further extensions to between 6 a.m. and midnight are available. These hours offer greater flexibility than airports such as Farnborough, London City, Northolt and Biggin Hill, especially on weekends.

No slots are required at Oxford, and its movements ceiling– 160,000 per year–offers plenty of scope for growth. The airport is outside the London Terminal Area, meaning that flights can make their approaches direct from en route airways rather than having to be stacked.

Oxford’s main runway has a licensed length of 4,327 feet, which is close to that of London City. Taxiways have also been improved over the past few years, and parking space on the ramp has been expanded.

Capacity for Bizav
Movements at the airport are now at an historic low, with 50,000 last year compared with 235,000 at its peak in the 1960s, and some 160,000 ten years ago. This decline is accounted for mainly by a reduction in pilot training, driven by increased use of simulators and the use of lower-cost overseas bases for training.

Oxford expects that this year it will double the amount of business aviation traffic it receives annually to 5,000. It is now handling more than 10 aircraft each day and is selling twice the volume of jet fuel as at this time last year.

The opening up of capacity is allowing business aviation to gather pace, and the new terminal is now equipped for the UK’s new NASP security screening and other capabilities that will allow charters and even scheduled services. These rules include a 98-foot control zone within which all vehicles have to be fully screened whenever a commercial flight by an aircraft weighing more than 10 metric tonnes (for example, a Learjet 60) is being handled.

This summer the airport added “Category 4” fire and rescue capability; last month that was boosted to “Category 5/6,” with 23 full-time firefighters and three foam tenders. “This will allow us to take the largest possible types such as the BBJ and Airbus A318CJ and 80-seat turboprop charters…[and] scheduled shuttles, maybe one or two a day,” said Dillon-Godfray.

The airport’s management has developed a master plan to develop new hangar space and demolish old buildings. According to Dillon-Godfray, this could result in “doubling the footprint of the airport by adding another 200,000 square feet… focusing on fleet operators, MRO, OEM sales, support and emerging VLJ companies.”

The new owners are about to purchase 120 acres that will take the airport boundaries to some of the surrounding highways, with a view to building a second road link. In addition, there is the prospect of a new railway station in nearby Kidlington on the Birmingham line from London Paddington.

In 2006 Hangar 10, the first new hangar in 30 years, was added. Now the airport is adding another–the 21,000-sq-ft Hangar 11–which should be finished by February.

The Reuben Brothers group has called for another two large hangars to be developed on the north side of the airport, adding up to 150,000 sq ft of additional capacity. It holds firm orders for no fewer than 20 Embraer Phenom 100s, as well as a number of Legacys and a Lineage, but it has not publicly stated its intentions for this substantial new fleet, with deliveries due to begin next year.

Over the next two years there are plans to develop up to 33,000 sq ft of additional office space, including a second floor in the Oxfordjet terminal building.