The global pandemic has revitalized the business aviation market, thanks in large part to a slew of wealthy people – often new to the industry – choosing the safety of cabins and private terminals over risking airliners. and crowded airports. London Biggin Hill Airport has benefited from this new trend in VIP travel, with the dedicated business aviation hub, located 14 km from the British capital, experiencing one of the busiest periods in its history. .
“The 5,000 aircraft movements in the first quarter were more than 40% higher than the same period in 2020, which at 3,460 was a pretty strong period for the airport. And we have broken our record for year-on-year movements every month since July 2021,” Biggin Hill Airport Chief Commercial Officer Robert Walters said. This increase is also reflected in the hub’s annual aircraft movement tally, which jumped nearly 30% between 2020 and 2021, from 14,700 to 18,900.
“We expect this trend to continue this year as the ripple effect of the pandemic continues to energize business aviation and awaken many new travelers to the significant time savings that private jets can offer,” added Walters.
Biggin Hill works diligently to retain and attract VIP traffic in London’s ultra-competitive market. Rivals include airports at Farnborough, London City, Luton and Stansted, as well as smaller airfields and Oxford and Southend further afield.
According to Walters, Biggin Hill’s market share of London area traffic has grown from 11% of movements around seven years ago to more than 22% today, its ranking “oscillating between second and third place in the range” with Luton. Farnborough Airport, 54km south-west of the capital, is ‘number one’, Walters said, ‘however between us we attract over 50 per cent of business aviation traffic from London”.
He attributed Biggin Hill’s success to its compelling “value-added offering” for business jet operators and passengers, as well as its “excellent” on-site third-party services.
Resident “key tenants” include motor racing giant Formula 1, helicopter operator and maintenance provider Castle Air, charter and management company Zenith, distributor and service center Pilatus Aircraft Oriens, FBO Signature Flight Support, JET MS Finishing Company and Bombardier.
Walters said the airport recently completed construction of Bombardier’s maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities following a two-year construction program. Located on the east side of the airport, the Canadian aircraft manufacturerThe new base consists of 650,000 square feet of apron and a 250,000 square foot hangar that can accommodate 14 ultra-long-range Global 7500s at a time. This structure complements a second much smaller MRO hangar on the airport site that Bombardier has occupied since 2017.
The quantity and quality of tenants at Biggin Hill persuaded airport management to build a hotel there. Construction began in March 2021 and the 54-room, four-star hotel, dubbed The Landing and located on the south side of the airport, is set to open by the end of the year. “Our hotel general manager has been in the job for nine months now, and we look forward to welcoming the first guests, which will largely be made up of airport visitors, flight crew and engineers.” , Walters said.
A new FBO terminal is also planned, but Walters admitted the pandemic has slowed its development. “We are dusting off the plans and re-launching the project, but we don’t have a fixed timeline for the construction work yet,” Walters said.
This year should mark the completion of the Airport Perimeter Road Improvement Program and the long-awaited approval of a new instrument approach for Runway 3, designed to add capacity to both ends of its main runway. . Walters estimated that this validation could increase traffic by around 10%.
Looking to the future, Biggin Hill has reserved a “plot of land” on the east side of the airport which it plans to dedicate to electric planes and future flights. “We would like to develop the infrastructure to support the new wave of urban air mobility (UAM) aircraft that are coming,” according to Walters. “Given our proximity to central London, Biggin Hill is an ideal location to base these new aircraft, which could eventually replace helicopter services in the city.”
For now, the helicopter service provided by tenant Castle Air offers customers a six-minute transit to London Heliport, which Walters says is “an essential part of the company’s earning value proposition. Biggin Hill times.
Linked to the airport’s sustainability program is a plan to erect a solar farm adjacent to the planned UAM facility. Walters expects the site to generate 20 gigawatts of clean energy to power the planned UAM operation, including aircraft charging points, and feed any excess energy into the national grid. Walters described Biggin Hill’s green program as “key to the future of the airport” and noted that April marked the first anniversary of the introduction of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) sales at the site. .
Despite the fanfare, Walters conceded that adopting his SAF – a 35% blend supplied by Air bp – was disappointing. He attributes this hesitation to a combination of price and a lack of education among VIP travelers and operators about the environmental benefits of SAF.
“We need to work with bp to better understand sustainable fuel because many people are skeptical and don’t appreciate its value,” Walters said. Compared to standard jet fuel, SAF is expensive, Walters continued, especially on a transatlantic flight where the difference can be thousands of dollars. “On a short-haul flight – from London to the south of France for example – the difference in cost is in the hundreds of dollars, which makes SAF more attractive.”