London airports

 - October 1, 2008, 8:10 AM

London is one of the world’s most crowded and congested cities, but business aircraft operators flying to the British capital are spoiled for choice when it comes to landing options. Representatives from several of these airports and FBOs have made the trip here to Orlando to state their case for being NBAA showgoers’ home away from home on the other side of the Atlantic.

Farborough Airport

TAG Aviation Farnborough (Booth No. 2026) operates one of Europe’s most exceptional FBOs, with an eye-catching terminal and superb purpose-built facilities. However, it is capacity-constrained and is taking steps that it hopes will eventually allow it to grow beyond the 28,000 annual movement limit, which will almost certainly be reached this year.

At the end of June, TAG completed an extensive public consultation on the future use of the airport which involved some 14,500 local households. The company intends to publish a new master plan for the airport during the fourth quarter and will submit it to the UK’s Department for Transport. This will likely be followed by a new planning application to increase the movement limit.

Technically, Farnborough Airport could handle at least 100,000 movements each year, but TAG is not likely to press for such a large increase. TAG believes it eventually will win approval to raise the annual movement limit because UK central government policy now calls for better use to be made of existing airport infrastructure in the London area.

TAG won a long-running appeal process last March to allow it to progressively raise the annual limit for movements on weekends and on public holidays from 2,500 to 5,000. By the end of this year, the company expects that 4,200 of these movements will have been used and the full 5,000 will likely be allocated next year.

With capacity at a premium it’s not surprising that the average size of aircraft using Farnborough has continued to increase. The number of airliner-sized business jets using the airport (such as the Boeing BBJ) has increased by almost 70 percent this year.

TAG in July opened the new Aviator Hotel at the airport. According to TAG
Farnborough chief executive Brandon O’Reilly, this already proving to be extremely popular with visiting pilots and flight attendants. The company is now seeking approval to build three more sets of hangars to provide an additional 120,000 sq ft of covered aircraft parking space and offices for based operators. Farnborough already has 270,000 sq ft of hangars.

Farnborough Airport–situated 35 miles southwest of central London–features prominently in the new James Bond movie Quantum of Solace, which opens in U.S. theaters on November 14. Last January, TAG’s facilities were used for two days of filming that saw several chartered business jets brought in to be used in action sequences.

Biggin Hill Airport

London Biggin Hill Airport (Booth No. 4080) is just 12 miles southeast of London’s financial district. It is also the only airport in the immediate vicinity of the city that is not slot restricted and has plenty of scope to take more traffic.

The airport has annual capacity for 125,000 movements, and barely 10 percent of these are currently used by business aircraft. It achieved 25-percent growth last year and is expecting to grow by 30 percent over the course of this year.

Last month construction work started on a new FBO at Biggin Hill. The facility is being built by Bahrain-based Rizon Jet, which plans to offer handling and maintenance services beginning in August. The FBO will focus especially on supporting flights to and from the Middle East, with services such as Halal catering and helicopter links into central London.

The privately owned airport already offers its own handling services from the main terminal building on the north side of the site. Jet Aviation (Booth No. 3997) has a well established FBO on the southwest side of the airport and charter broker Air Partner is building its own base close by. This will largely be used for Air Partner’s own charter flights (it bought local operator Gold Air in 2006 to ensure dedicated capacity) and will include a 40,000-sq-ft hangar.

Next year, Biggin Hill’s management expects to complete the construction of a new 70,000-sq-ft hangar close to the main terminal. This will consist of four bays and will be able to accommodate up to 10 Gulfstream GVs or four Airbus Corporate Jets.
According to business development manager Robert Walters, the airport is close to getting local government approval to build a new hotel that will largely be used by visiting air crew. This should be open before the end of next year.

The airport has increased available ramp space to 270,000 sq ft and renovated the terminal building, which now offers about 12,000 sq ft of office space.

Luton Airport

Signature Flight Support (Booth No. 3600) has achieved continued traffic growth at its London Luton Airport FBO. The average size of aircraft using Luton–located 30 miles north of London–has been increasing and they are tending to stay there longer too. In recent months, the FBO has seen a slight reduction in transatlantic traffic from the U.S. but traffic volumes from within Europe have increased.

According to Trevor King, Signature’s commercial director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the introduction of slot coordination at Luton last year has not seriously inconvenienced business aircraft operators at an airport that has seen strong growth in low-cost airline traffic. He acknowledged that there can be aircraft parking issues during peak months but said that these can be overcome through careful planning and coordination between Signature and its customers.

Over the past year, Signature has been upgrading its Luton facility. This work has included the addition of new passenger screening facilities to meet European security requirements for flights operated under commercial rules. The company is now looking to provide additional aircraft parking space at the site.

One of Luton’s key advantages over several other London-area airports available to business aircraft operators is its hours of operation. The facility is open 24 hours a day. Prolonged construction work on the nearby M1 highway have caused ground transportation delays but these will soon be complete.

Signature recently increased its European network of FBOs to 23 bases with the September 12 takeover of Interflight Executive Aircraft Services at London Gatwick Airport. The company now controls the only FBO at Gatwick through the acquisition of Interflight’s parent company Southern Aero Services. According to Signature parent company BBA Aviation, the deal was valued at £4.5 million ($7.9 million) on a debt-free basis.

Harrods Aviation (Booth No. 2223) also has an FBO at Luton, in addition to its facility at London Stansted Airport. Last December, the company opened a new facility at Luton, investing $12 million in a two-floor building constructed around the existing Hangar 129, with room for dedicated arrivals and departures lounges, plus extensive office space. The complex features 58,000 sq ft of hangar space and more than 210,000 sq ft of adjoining ramp space. It has provided just over 8,600 sq ft of office space on two floors and nearly 5,400 sq ft of passenger and pilot lounges, as well as including flight planning offices, on-site customs/immigration clearance, conference rooms and catering services.

Stansted Airport

Universal Weather & Aviation (Booth No. 219) has a long-established and popular FBO at Stansted Airport–located 35 miles northeast of London. The facility is also home to the U.S. flight planning group’s European operations center, which offers trip planning services to Europe-based operators traveling within Europe (in tandem with the group’s main trip planning center in Houston).

The company aims to extend the geographical reach of the European center. Out of a total staff of 40 people employed at Stansted, about 12 are dedicated to handling and another 12 to the European operations center and these numbers are set to rise.

In addition to passenger and crew lounges, Universal Stansted now offers a crew business center, which gets heavy usage from pilots increasingly dependent on high-speed Internet access and flight planning databases. The FBO, which achieved a 50-percent growth in traffic handled last year, has been approved to the safety standards for handling set by the U.S. National Air Transportation Association and it claims to be the only UK facility with such approval. Universal is also investing in more ground equipment to make it fully responsive to growing demand for handling, including from VIP widebody aircraft operated by various head-of-state flight departments.

“We aim to do just about everything other than fly the airplane,” said Sean Rafferty, managing director of Universal Aviation UK. As with Universal’s trip planning teams worldwide (some 60 sites in total), the goal is to help operators circumnavigate the many potential pitfalls that await business aircraft operators in terms of access and logistical problems. There are few more challenging environments than the crowded London area, where all airports are now subject to restrictions and complex operational issues.