Several airports billing themselves as “London-area” are hoping to secure more business aviation traffic to the British capital, putting them in competition with those normally associated with the segment such as Farnborough, Luton and Biggin Hill. While Oxford has carved a niche and Cambridge has upped the ante with respect to business aviation, airports such as Lydd and Southend have also entered the fray as their wider development activities have made them more appealing–and they have started to attract business aircraft.
Southend Airport to the east of London (famous for its part in the James Bond movie Goldfinger) has undergone a transformation in the past couple of years, with new owner Stobart, a UK trucking group, lengthening the runway and building a large new terminal alongside a new railway station. The new owners attracted low-cost airline operator Easyjet to set up a base there. During a recent gathering to explain how the airport should also prove attractive to business aviation operators, CEO Alastair Welch said, “Now any business jet can operate unrestricted on range. That’s the big thing for us.”
One advantage Southend has over some other airports (such as Biggin Hill) is that it can operate round the clock. This may well prove attractive to business aviation operators, alongside parking and hangarage, and the fact the airport has experienced maintenance operators such as ATC Lasham and Aircare (which specializes in Pilatus PC-12s, Beechcraft King Airs and Cessna Citations) on site.
While acknowledging that “Luton is currently a bit of a honeyspot” for corporate operators, Welch noted that the airport’s plans to increase airline passenger numbers to 20 million a year from the current 10 million might make it less attractive for business aircraft.
Concluding the presentation at Southend, Hannah Lo Bao, who recently joined the airport as business jet manager after five years with NetJets, said that the airport will be launching a frequent-flier program next month.
AIN flew in to Lydd Airport (also known as London Ashford Airport), which is near the coast and faced significant difficulties obtaining permission for growth due to an awkward approach, a nearby firing range and the Dungeness nuclear power station. However, in April this year the UK government approved a £25 million ($38 million) runway extension and new terminal. The airport’s single runway (Runway 03/21, currently 1,505 meters/4,937 feet long) will be extended by 294 meters (965 feet) plus a 150-meter (492-foot) starter extension, and the terminal will be able to handle 500,000 passengers a year. In the late 1950s the airport handled more passengers than London Gatwick, and it is hoping for a revival to coincide with its 60th anniversary next year.
The airport has the advantage of being close to Ashford railway station, a stop for Eurostar trains between London St. Pancras and continental Europe (chiefly Paris and Brussels). Lydd is only 14 miles from Ashford, which is then only 37 minutes from St. Pancras. The airport is also within easy reach of the M20 motorway, for ferry ports and into London, as it connects to the M25 London orbital road. Meanwhile, “private helicopter transfers to London can be arranged if required, typically taking 25 to 35 minutes,” according to the airport. The runway currently has ILS and GPS approaches, and the airport has category six fire fighting capability and services such as customs, immigration and special branch.
“Lydd Airport caters for a wide range of airport operations, from executive jets and helicopters to private light aircraft and cargo,” states the airport. “Secure hangarage and aircraft parking with dedicated VIP stands are available, and opening hours are convenient and practical, with extensions available upon request.” Airport operator FAL Aviation said it has “an experienced team that can provide a corporate aviation package, including flight planning, weather briefings, ground handling and in-flight catering, limousine hire, refueling and outstanding crew facilities.”
Tim Maskens, senior air traffic control officer, at London Ashford Airport, told AIN that landing and parking fees are far less than those at airports closer to London, and that the road and rail links are excellent. Given that the drive is approximately two hours into central London, however, the train (or a helicopter) makes more sense; and this airport is suited to those flying in from, or via, mainland Europe. For operators coming from the U.S., Oxford might be worth considering; Luton, while closer in, is increasingly busy with airline traffic.
Distances from the airports to London Battersea Heliport, central London’s only commercial heliport, give an approximate idea of the helicopter transfers required, but then there is a drive from the heliport to the city, for example, that could take half an hour or more at peak times. London City Airport is another option but it would be a stop-and-go as there is only limited parking; on the plus side, the transfer to the Square Mile is quick. London Gatwick is relatively busy with airline traffic but is a possibility, with new and more flexible helicopter operations, through Signature. It is also an option to drive to nearby Redhill Aerodrome (where Bristow and London Helicopter Centers are based) for a helicopter to Battersea or elsewhere.
The distances can be deceptive in terms of how good the options are. The drive times will vary considerably based on what time of day or night the journey is made and in terms of exactly which part of London the traveler wants to reach. New candidate Southend does not have the best road links and it can take an hour or more to travel to central London, but it does boast an on-site railway station, which proved popular during the London Olympics last year. Trains to London Liverpool Street, in the city, take 53 minutes. This compares with 34 minutes on the train from Farnborough to London Waterloo, but the drive to Farnborough’s train station takes 10 to 15 minutes. The drive from Farnborough to London typically takes one hour and 15 minutes outside rush hours, according to the AA’s online Route Planner. From Biggin Hill the average drive to central London is approximately 65 minutes. The airport also benefits from being close to Bromley train station, offering a fast connection to the city center.