Business aviation helps fuel Oxford growth

 - May 23, 2013, 1:30 PM

Oxford Airport, located at Kidlington (just north of the “Dreaming Spires” of the famous university town), has continued to experience growth in business aviation traffic. An 11-percent increase in business traffic during 2012, up from 6,913 movements in 2011 to 7,761, has also contributed to a 13-percent rise in jet fuel sales. This traffic increase has cemented Oxford’s position as the London region’s fifth busiest business destination and the fastest growing. While the region as a whole showed no appreciable overall change during the 2012 Olympic Games, Oxford did pick up some additional traffic.

Just before EBACE the UK CAA signed off on Oxford’s new primary and secondary radar system, a £4.5 million ($7 million) program that is emblematic of the renewal process at the airport. The new radar has “transformed the airport,” according to business development director James Dillon-Godfray. A £900,000 ($1.3 million) communications refit is also being undertaken, while the last sections of World War II-era apron are being replaced to accommodate more intensive operations by heavier aircraft. In 2011 the licensed takeoff length of the runway was increased to allow higher-weight operations by long-range aircraft such as the Bombardier Global Express, two of which are now based at Oxford as part of Hangar8’s operation.

Another key development for Oxford is the introduction of a scheduled business-class service. Since this March Minoan Air has been flying Fokker 50s daily to Edinburgh and Dublin. Scheduled services are also due to start to Belfast, Guernsey and Jersey, with Paris and Amsterdam possibly to be added next year. Initiating airline operations has generated significant benefits for the business aviation community, including improved terminal facilities, planned improvements to transport links and increased capability for handling larger aircraft.

Benefits that are already in place are the provision of enhanced fire-and-rescue capability (to Cat 6 RFF), and the lengthening of airport opening times. Oxford is now open for business from 0630 to 2230, but that is likely to expand to 0600 to midnight, significantly longer than some of its main rivals, such as Biggin Hill and Farnborough Airport, which are heavily constrained.

Although Oxford is located some way from the center of London, the airport is keen to stress its competitive landing fees, the speed and ease with which arrivals from overseas can clear immigration through a meet-and-check service and that the nearby M40 motorway to London is usually the least congested main artery into the capital. The airport lies outside London’s congested terminal maneuvering area, reducing the likelihood of airborne holding and re-routing. The Oxfordjet FBO remains one of the few in the UK with pet-handling services.

Furthermore, the airport is promoting the ability to interline with a helicopter service to the city center. Oxford’s owners, the Reuben Brothers, acquired Barclays London Heliport at Battersea in February 2012 and, by offering significant discounts on landing fees to customers using both facilities, can make a helicopter transfer cost-effective. Under normal conditions, the shuttle between the two facilities takes 22 minutes.

Oxford is home to six operators with AOCs, with two more to join, and offers charter customers a range of aircraft and helicopter options. Several maintenance centers are at the airport, including Eurocopter UK’s main base, Hangar8’s EASA 145 MRO facility and AirMed Engineering’s Cessna authorized service center. CAE now owns Oxford Aviation Academy, which provides ab initio flight training at Oxford and other worldwide locations.

Despite the increase in large-aircraft activity, “We try and stay GA-friendly,” said Dillon-Godfray. “With the start of airline services we are wary of still looking after GA and business aviation, but so far it has worked very well,” he added. The landing fee for small aircraft is £10, one of the lowest to be found anywhere in the UK.

Having experienced a sustained increase in business traffic since the Oxfordjet FBO began operations five years ago, the airport plans to increase capacity further and has earmarked areas for possible expansion. While the airport handled 40,485 movements in 2012, it has an allotment of 160,000, providing a significant margin for future growth.