EBACE Convention News

Cambridge Airport seeks established FBO partner

 - May 15, 2011, 10:00 PM

Cambridge Airport owner the Marshall Group is looking to take its 18-month-old Marshall Business Aviation Centre (MBAC) to the next level by linking up with a big-name FBO group. The UK airport is courting prospective partners here at the EBACE show (Stand 780).

According to Archie Garden, who was appointed as the airport’s director in January, the privately owned airport already sees 250 business aircraft movements a month. He claimed that this represents about 5 percent of business aviation activity in the London area. Cambridge is about 60 miles northeast of central London and provides good access to large parts of eastern England.

In the past, the Marshall family, which has owned the airport for three generations, has shied away from promoting the airport for commercial use because it has largely been used for its aerospace engineering work for various air forces–for example, overhauling and modifying Lockheed Hercules aircraft.

However, Garden pointed out that the military customers have meant that the airport is extremely well equipped to serve Cambridge and the surrounding area, which is renowned for its entrepreneurial companies in high-tech industries such as computing and medicine, many of which have their roots in the world-class University of Cambridge. Add to this the fact that the center of British horse racing is in the nearby town of Newmarket, and that Cambridge is within an hour’s drive of London (it is 60 miles north), then all the ingredients are in place for a real airport success story, Garden said.

Just under a year ago, the airfield’s 6,447-foot main runway was resurfaced. The Marshall Group also has invested in a new GPS approach to complement the instrument landing system.

Growing the Maintenance Center

On the maintenance front, MBAC is already a Cessna authorized service center–reflecting long-standing ties between the Marshall Group and the U.S. airframer. Garden said the maintenance activities currently carried out in the MBAC facility, for customers such as fractional ownership provider NetJets Europe (which recently renewed its contract), will soon be moving into a larger hangar as Marshall Aviation Services strives to grow that part of the business.

This, said Garden, will mean hangar parking for its home-based customers. “We’re already selling this now–and from October 1 the hangars on either side of the FBO will also be available wholly to the airport. We can take 30 aircraft of Cessna Citation XLS size,” he explained.

Growing the business activities at Cambridge since Marshall decided to allow its promotion has not been difficult, said Garden. “We have never advertised the facility–people haven’t really known that there is an airport [at Cambridge] but as we’ve spoken to the press about [our ambitions] we have started to see it grow,” he said.

Minimal Olympics Prep

The airport is up to 30,000 movements a year (3,000 a year being business aircraft) and revenue is already up by a recession-bucking 86 percent. A big attraction for operators has been that Cambridge is north of London’s busy controlled airspace (which covers London City, Heathrow, Gatwick and even Luton and Stansted). As an added bonus the airport will be six miles north of the 2012 Olympic Games restricted zone.

“It’s working wonderfully,” said Garden, showing that “Cambridge itself hasn’t been so badly hit by the recession” as other areas of the UK and Europe. He added that the 2012 Olympics would be a key event for MBAC, but stressed that the airport is not going to cram in as many aircraft as possible because its priority is that business continue as usual for its regular customers.

However, operators are being invited to pre-book parking space (with a deposit of approximately $8,000) and if this is successful, a temporary hard-standing area will be created to accommodate even more aircraft. “The Olympics is not a moneymaking opportunity for us–it is about offering value,” said Garden. “Our brand is everything–it’s about service and quality.”

Garden is particularly interested in operators coming from the U.S. East Coast. “Cambridge is almost the first airport that flights [from the U.S. East Coast] come to before encountering [London’s] congested airspace, with the hassle of holds, and so on. It’s a true USP for us.” As examples, he suggested traffic coming out of New York (White Plains and Teterboro) and Boston would find Cambridge an attractive alternative. “We get VIPs using our facilities often–and our service is exceedingly discreet.”

The new Cambridge Airport director also is spearheading a campaign to attract a European regional airline to serve Cambridge and its environs, with a populace that has a high propensity for travel, about half of it being on business. At present, such travelers tend to use the other London airports as links to destinations such as Dublin and Amsterdam, but Cambridge would make more sense for around two million people, he said.

Another project on the radar is to attract more companies to base themselves at the 438-acre airport site. “We are looking for companies to relocate here,” said Garden.

On September 20 the airport will once again run a Business and General Aviation Day (BGAD), something it started around five years ago and which has proved extremely successful.