Farnborough airport, the most important base in the UK for private jet travel, is having to turn away customers because the surge in demand for business aviation is pushing the airport to its planning limits. The position is particularly acute at weekends, when demand is running at twice the level permitted by the local planning authority, Rushmoor Borough Council.
Global demand for private aviation is at a record level, with strong growth in Europe, the Middle East and Asia as companies and rich individuals seek to avoid the delays and hassle of commercial aviation.
Farnborough, the only airport in the UK dedicated solely to business aviation, is permitted to operate a maximum of 28,000 aircraft movements (take-offs and landings) a year, of which 2,500 can be at weekends.
The airport applied in October 2005 to double the weekend limit to 5,000 flights a year within the 28,000 quota. That was refused by the local authority and the airport is still waiting for the result from a subsequent government planning inquiry, which concluded in April last year.
Brandon O’Reilly, chief executive of TAG Farnborough Airport, a subsidiary of Swiss-based TAG Aviation group, said the airport had been operating at the weekend limit since 2003. “At weekends we turn away the same amount as we operate,” he said.
The surge in demand for private jet travel in the past two years means the airport is also bumping against its flight ceiling on weekdays.
Farnborough, located 40 miles south-west of the centre of London, replaced London Luton last year as the UK airport with the highest level of business aircraft flights. It has increased the number of take-offs and landings by 43 per cent in the past two years. Flights rose last year by 23 per cent from to 26,507, and in January business increased again by 11.5 per cent year-on-year.
Luton increased its business jet flights from 23,118 in 2006 to 25,627.Mr O’Reilly said: “This year we will reach the cap, so this growth is not sustainable. We must start turning business away.”
Farnborough was planning to begin a public consultation at the end of March in order to produce a new masterplan for the airport in the autumn, said Mr O’Reilly. That would provide the basis for a planning application, most probably next year, to go beyond the 28,000 flights ceiling. He said government policy called for maximum use of existing assets before the construction of new runways or airports, but this was being frustrated by complexity in the planning system. Mr O’Reilly said the airport could handle “more than 100,000 movements a year from the present concrete and facilities”. The group would be looking for permission “to about double the present capacity”.
“The whole planning system seems to us to be interminable. It was supposed to be streamlined, but we still find it very difficult to see a way through, even though the government talks about making the best use of existing capacity,” he said.