MEBAA Convention News

Biggin Hill scrambles to meet Mideast FBO expectations

 - November 10, 2008, 5:50 AM

Middle Eastern business aircraft operators flying to Britain can expect a special welcome at London Biggin Hill Airport (Stand No. 724). Bahrain-based executive charter operator Rizon Jet is building an executive terminal there, which is designed to meet the needs and preferences of Middle Eastern customers. The full-service FBO is due to open next August. The facility will also serve as a base for Rizon’s planned entry into the European charter market.

The Rizon FBO will offer an alternative to Biggin Hill’s terminal building, as well as the Jet Aviation FBO there. It will occupy a site that previously was to have been developed by charter broker Air Partner as a business aviation enclave, largely to support its own charter operations. Air Partner’s facility will now be built on the other side of the airport where it can construct a hangar tall enough to accommodate aircraft up to the size of a Boeing Business Jet.

Rizon’s new terminal will be fully compliant with Islamic Sharia law in terms of catering arrangements, prayer rooms and features such as unveiling booths for women passengers. According to Rizon Group CEO Will Curtis, Biggin Hill–12 miles southeast of central London–is well located for flights to and from the Middle East because aircraft can quickly reach their cruise altitudes without having to make detours around restricted airspace on other sides of the UK capital. Unlike most other London-area airports, Biggin Hill is not subject to slot restrictions.

Last year, Qatar’s Ghanem Bin Saad al-Saad group bought Rizon and it is investing around $180 million in the company. Currently, Rizon Jet operates a Hawker 900XP jet and manages a Hawker Beechcraft Premier I for a private owner. During the next two years, it expects to increase its fleet fivefold by taking delivery of another 900XP, three Bombardier Challenger 605s, five reconfigured CRJ200s and a Global Express.

Rizon also is aiming to break into the aircraft management market in the UK. It sees potential for exploiting the differences in peak charter demand between the Middle East, where winter is the busiest season, and Europe, where more capacity is required during the summer months. The company also believes that by having bases in both regions it will be well placed to turn deadhead flights into revenue-yielding operations.

Curtis has recruited a team with extensive experience in business aviation services. They have begun the process of establishing a UK aircraft operator’s certificate, as well as applying for European EASA 145 maintenance approval.

Rizon is spending about $15 million on the new 140,000-sq-ft FBO. According to Curtis, Middle Eastern customers expect a higher level of service than that currently offered by many European FBOs.