Air Partner plans Biggin Hill facelift

 - September 20, 2007, 12:03 PM

Work is set to begin on development of a major business aviation enclave at London Biggin Hill Airport (Booth No. 7329), with executive charter broker Air Partner International recently signing an 80-year lease to establish its own operating base on a 115,000-sq-ft plot. The $10 million project will see the construction of two hangars for use by Air Partner’s fleet of Bombardier Learjets (the former Gold Air operation it acquired last year).

The first of these is due to open next September, with the second to follow in 2009. The facility will also house a maintenance operation for these aircraft, which include six Learjet 45s and a Hawker 800.

The Air Partner operation is currently being run from Gold Air’s 26,000-sq-ft facility. Jet Aviation has had a significant base at Biggin Hill for several years, offering charter, maintenance and handling services.

Privately owned Biggin Hill recently opened a separate new ramp, increasing available aircraft parking space by some 60 percent, to almost 270,000 sq ft. According to Robert Walters, the airport’s business development manager, the expansion will allow aircraft to be parked more safely.

The $1.5 million project began in January and represents the first step to a more extensive redevelopment of Biggin Hill. This will see the addition of a 70,000-sq-ft combined terminal and hangar. The hangar will be split into four bays to accommodate up to four Boeing Business Jets, and the building will offer just over 12,000 sq ft of office space. Meanwhile, the existing terminal building is undergoing interior refurbishment.

So far this year, business aviation traffic at Biggin Hill has grown at a rate of 30 percent compared with the same period last year. Walters told NBAA Convention News that these growth rates are sustainable because–unlike several other London-area airports–Biggin Hill is not constrained by tight restrictions on total movements or the imposition of slots.

The airport, which is situated about 12 miles southeast of central London, is limited to 125,000 annual movements but is currently at around the 70,000-movement mark. (This total includes flying club activity.) Rising demand for diminishing slot availability at other London-area airports, such as Farnborough and Luton, is forcing higher landing fees and handling costs at these locations, making Biggin Hill seem a better-value option for some operators.

Another advantage claimed by Biggin Hill is that it still offers plenty of land for further development, giving other prospective based operators options for building their own hangars and other facilities. “With no capacity problems, it makes Biggin Hill an ideal place to base aircraft,” said Walters.

The main 5,900-foot runway at Biggin Hill can receive aircraft up to around the size of a Boeing Business Jet. The airport’s operating hours are 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays (with some restrictions during the first and last hours) and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends.

The airport has also substantially upgraded its Web site (www.bigginhillairport.com) to include interactive features such as booking handling services online.

Biggin Hill’s parent company, Regional Airports Ltd., also owns Southend Airport, about 40 miles east of central London. This facility is open around the clock and offers substantial capacity for business aircraft operations and is well placed to provide access to the Thames Gateway business and residential development projects running east out of the UK capital. Plans are now being finalized to build a hotel and more hangars, and the company already has approval for a new terminal and a railway station with direct links to London’s financial district.