If you’re planning to fly to London in a corporate jet (anything up to the size of a ACJ320 or BBJ2) you have several options when it comes to airports–Biggin Hill, Luton, even Oxford or Cambridge. However, there is little doubt that TAG Farnborough Airport is on top of the pile for shear panache. Stylish architecturally, gleaming and modern, yet it is at the same time Britain’s oldest airfield (1905), which can boast a hard-to-beat place in the history of aviation. It is also situated, all 575 acres, very close to one of the best Motorways for access to London–the M3 highway (for those that don’t prefer a helicopter to Battersea Heliport)–and has its own five-star accommodation at the Aviator Hotel.
AIN spoke with the airport’s CEO, Brandon O’Reilly, just before the ABACE show in Shanghai last month, and was surprised to learn of the intense interest that the Chinese are showing in TAG Farnborough. With almost no understanding of business aviation, they are learning fast that there is an entire network of transport infrastructure that, to-date, their country has missed out on.
According to the rules granting permission to develop the airport, scheduled services and flying training are prohibited; it was designated as London’s airport for the development of business aviation. Many airports within striking distance of London are trying to get a slice of the action and they have had some success, but Farnborough is moving up another gear to stay in pole position. For example, it is now home base for some 65 business jets (60 percent in the hangars and 40 percent out on the ramps).
O’Reilly told AIN, “We are the sole FBO [operator] and control it to the quality we think our customers expect. Everything is very responsive here.” The buildings, runway extension, taxiway improvements and 240,000-sq-ft wave-shaped hangars and terminal building were all mostly completed by 2007, with more hangar and ramp space added just before the 2012 Olympics, which saw many visitors experiencing Farnborough Airport for the first time–especially those with ACJs and BBJs. Since then the number of these types frequenting the ramp space has increased. “We now see a significant number of the over 50-[metric]-ton type of aircraft, airliner sized,” said O’Reilly, who added that “the broker community is sending more aircraft here now, too.”
Growth in movements of such aircraft was “45 percent 2012 over 2011, helped specifically by the Olympics, and we increased another 8 percent over that in 2013,” he said. And the first quarter of this year outstripped the first quarter of 2013–up 4 percent on last year. “During the Olympic Games many of these aircraft came here for the first time, and they’ve all come back,” said O’Reilly. Apart from the ease of getting to and from aircraft, he cites “not queuing behind other aircraft for takeoff,” as well as no holding or slot restrictions, as major attractions.
To make the VIP experience even better for its customers, the airport is investing in further infrastructure changes that will see a new entrance created to the airfield. The existing entrance will be assigned for employee use (TAG has around 140 on staff but, in total, there are some 1,000 full-time workers on the site). With a planned doubling of annual movements over the next few years, this entrance for customers and crew will help accommodate that increase in activity while also adding to the efficiency.
Growth in movements “is permitted on a sliding scale up to 50,000 by 2019, and we’re operating at around 25,000 movements now,” said O’Reilly, who admitted, “That’s been static for a couple of years but the mix of aircraft has changed, we have seen larger aircraft taking a larger amount of the capacity.” Although TAG has failed to lift the movement cap completely, this is certainly not an issue just yet. There are no problems with slots, and the airport is open 0700 to 2200 on weekdays, and 0800 to 2000 on weekends and bank holidays.
In 2012 TAG Farnborough Airport handled flights to and from 835 destinations worldwide, “more than three times the number of destinations served by scheduled airlines from other London airports.”
As another part of the new development plan, the airport has acquired a building (Meadowgate) that it is bringing into the airport boundary so that its operations will be based there–leaving “just the front-line employees in the terminal.” This will free up space in the terminal building, which is to be “re-profiled and refurbished.”
Meadowgate will be the new TAG Aviation Farnborough headquarters, housing the £50 million ($70 million) company, while the space freed up at the terminal will allow two more lounges to be added on the second floor (in addition to the four already on the ground floor) and there will be more crew facilities, likely to include a gym. The large boardroom will remain for hire for “meet-and-goes.” The new large passenger lounge will ensure the airport can maintain service when airliner-sized aircraft arrive with as many as 40 passengers, and will be a “sterile area” so security is cleared beforehand, rather than being the last thing before boarding as at present.
The airport is also aiming to streamline operations with an application for a larger region of controlled airspace, which will allow for better-defined arrival and departure routes. Reilly explained that the public consultation, which closed May 2, “would enable environmental improvements such as allowing aircraft to climb out more quickly, and to remain higher on the approach, which will also improve safety.”
Speaking to AIN before EBACE, O’Reilly said the prospects are good for more traffic movements while at the same time increasing service quality. “We want to be the airport that always says yes” and not turn any aircraft away. This is helped by having “plenty of hangar and parking space, a nice long runway [06-24] with ILS at both ends…and the last piece of the puzzle is the airspace change proposal…part of the permission to increase movements was a requirement that best efforts be made to get more precise flight paths and also to consider environmental impact,” he said.
“NATS [the UK ATM manager] helped us design the new airspace around Farnborough and after 20 or so iterations we entered a public consultation.” Once input from various stakeholders (local airfields, residents and so forth) has been taken into account, an application will be made to the CAA in the fourth quarter this year, with a decision sometime after that.
Before that, TAG Farnborough Airport will again have the pleasure of hosting the Farnborough International Airshow (July 14 to 20), with AIN publishing daily editions of its Farnborough Airshow News there. “We’re absolutely delighted to host the airshow as it puts Farnborough on the global aerospace map–and has been happening here since 1948,” said O’Reilly.