One-stop bizav service shop draws operators to Cambridge

 - May 7, 2009, 11:11 AM

Britain’s newest FBO, Marshall Business Aviation Centre, has been open for almost five months and is already fulfilling its owner’s hopes of drawing more traffic to Cambridge. The £5 million facility combines a new executive terminal with two adjoining hangars providing more than 50,000 sq ft of space for aircraft maintenance.
The investment by the privately owned Marshall Aerospace (Booth No. 1449) is part of a rebranding exercise through which Cambridge City Airport has been renamed Marshall Airport Cambridge. According to airport director John Watkins, this and the creation of the new Marshall Business Aviation division is part of a concerted effort to demonstrate to the market that the company offers a comprehensive and coherent set of services under one roof.

Alongside the new FBO and Marshall’s maintenance repair and overhaul capability for business aircraft, the new organization also includes charter operator Marshall Executive Aviation and a selection of chauffeured luxury cars provide by the Marshall group’s automobile sales organization. “We hadn’t previously addressed the way business aviation has been changing and the need for a more bespoke level of service covering all aspects of handling,” said Allan McGreal, head of Marshall Business Aviation.

The new facilities officially opened in early December. During the following four months, Marshall saw an increase in business aviation traffic of 8.5 percent compared with the same period a year earlier. The month-on-month increase for January and March were 15.3 and 10.5 percent, respectively. February actually saw a drop of 16.7 percent although this was a month when many UK airports were hard hit by exceptionally severe winter weather.

Over the course of 2008, Marshall Airport Cambridge achieved overall traffic increase of 4 percent (adding 1,550 movements), which included 3.5-percent growth in executive jet movements (with 125 added). Watkins told EBACE Convention News that the company is delighted by the early growth at the newly opened facilities and acknowledged that in today’s exceptionally difficult trading conditions it had braced itself for a decline.

Alternative to London
The growth in traffic has come from private and corporate operators, as well as from the executive charter sector. The airport has also seen an increase in business jet training flights, with companies eager to take advantage of Cambridge’s precision approach path indicator adjustor, which can replicate the 5.5-deg glideslope at London City Airport.

According to McGreal, pilots of privately owned aircraft have been particularly keen to try Cambridge and to be assured that all aspects of the operation would go smoothly so that their passengers are kept happy. He said several of these operators have migrated from Stansted and Luton airports, both of which are closer to London.

“For these people it is about delivering the flexibility they need and also clear value for money,” explained McGreal. “They scan service levels at FBOs very carefully because they don’t want to be embarrassed in front of their aircraft owners by poor onward ground transportation arrangements, lack of wireless connections or unacceptable catering and they do not want to be ripped off for handling.”

Other recent arrivals are the charter flights that carry the Ipswich Town professional soccer team and several of their opponents. Marshall is also seeking to encourage the local horse racing industry to make more use of the airport.

Last month, prospective new very light jet air taxi service Ambeo made the decision to relocate its operation from Cranfield Airport to Cambridge. It intends to operate 30 Cessna Citation Mustangs, although it has yet to outline a delivery schedule for them. “They’ve chosen to come here because we understand the situation of a start-up operation and we have an open mind about what they need,” said McGreal, adding that the geographical location was also a factor in the choice.

The Marshall Executive Aviation fleet currently consists of a Cessna Citation Bravo and a Citation XLS. By 2012, the company, which uses Marshall Aerospace test pilots to crew its aircraft, intends to have added to its charter portfolio a larger jet with transatlantic range carrying up to 16 seats and it is considering the larger Gulfstream and Bombardier products for this requirement. It may also try to lease a bizliner-class aircraft, such as the Boeing BBJ or Airbus ACJ, which it would operate on behalf of a specific client, while also making it available for ad hoc charter.

The new Business Aviation Centre, which is fully equipped for customs and immigration screening, offers a three-minute transit time between car and aircraft.
The two-floor building consists of a reception area, a main passenger lounge, a separate private lounge, a boardroom, an office that can be booked for use by passengers, flight-planning facilities, showers and changing rooms, a first-aid room and three crew rest rooms for the exclusive use of those who need to adhere to flight time limitation rules. It is compliant with the latest European security requirements for airports receiving commercial flights. McGreal said early customer reaction to the new facilities has validated the investment it has made in amenities such as the crew rest areas.

Immediately adjoining the building on one side is a new 25,800-sq-ft hangar dedicated to business aircraft maintenance. On the other side is a similarly sized existing hangar that is also used for this function. In total, Marshall Aerospace has more than one million square feet of hangar space in Cambridge that can be made available for parking aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 747 widebody airliner.

Marshall has been an authorized service center for Cessna’s Citation family of jets for more than 30 years. This year it intends to add the larger Sovereign and X models to its MRO portfolio, and they eventually will be joined by the new large-cabin Columbus. It had previously been a Gulfstream service center and its relationship with Cessna would not preclude it from operating a factory-authorized facility for another airframer. It is now in discussion with two other manufacturers with a view to establishing support infrastructure for their operators.

According to McGreal, in a bid make Marshall’s service standards more consistent, he has focused on meeting the needs of large fleet operators like fractional ownership provider NetJets Europe and in the process believes that the FBO is now better equipped to service individual aircraft operators. NetJets, which has most of its Citation fleet maintained at Marshall, has an office in the new Business Aviation Centre, as do several other based operators.

The new FBO has about half a million square feet of ramp space at its disposal. Marshall, which has no intention of allowing scheduled airline services to start at Cambridge, operates its own fuel farm and trucks. The airport’s main runway is 6,500 feet long.

The standard opening hours for Marshall Airport Cambridge are 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Monday to Friday and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends, and they can be extended with prior permission without any significant difficulty.

Marshall is positioning itself to receive traffic drawn by the London Olympic Games in 2012 and has a verbal agreement with an unidentified Olympic team to use the airport as its transportation base for the event. Cambridge is 60 miles northeast of the center of London, but is closer to many of the Olympic venues on the east side of the UK capital. Watkins believes that the company and its new business aviation gateway can offer Olympic teams turnkey solutions encompassing transportation arrangements and assistance in establishing training bases and support infrastructure for their time in the UK.

McGreal said that Marshall Airport Cambridge is aiming to deliver higher levels of service and flexibility than are now available to the business aviation community at the London-area’s busier airports. It is also well-placed for access to much of eastern England.