Going Big at Biggin Hill

posted on 20th March 2023
Going Big at Biggin Hill

Bombardier inaugurated its expanded presence at London Biggin Hill Airport last November, revealing a building capable of simultaneously housing 14 Global 7500s

Speaking at the inauguration of Bombardier’s newly expanded London Biggin Hill Airport service centre on 30 November 2022, Jean-Christophe Gallagher, the OEM’s Executive Vice President, Aircraft Sales & Bombardier Defense, said: “I’ve been with the company 20 years, and this is by far the most exciting time we’ve had. We repositioned as a pure-play business jet company a few years ago, focussed on manufacturing and servicing aircraft. Growing our aftermarket was always a key pillar in that strategy – we have 5,000 Learjet, Challenger and Global airplanes flying around the world and we’ve given ourselves the mission of growing our support business to $2.5 billion by 2025. We currently have a 40% share of the global MRO market for Bombardier aircraft.”
Bombardier’s worldwide network of service facilities is the backbone of its ambitious plan. It includes London Biggin Hill and will soon add Abu Dhabi International Airport, where ground was broken on a new service centre on 6 December 2022, with the expectation of opening for business in 2025.
The investment in MRO facilities falls in line with Bombardier’s ‘Bring Your Jet Home’ strategy. “We’re creating the necessary service infrastructure around the world so that all our customers can access an OEM facility. It’s different to what the industry has historically done. In the past the big OEMs focussed on authorised service facilities and at one time Bombardier had 70 – today we have just 15. Some OEMs have acquired third-party maintenance companies, but we’ve decided to do it largely organically,” Gallagher continued.
The originally scheduled date for Biggin Hill’s inauguration was postponed after the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The delay meant that by November the facility was working at capacity and on the 30th of the month, 28 assorted Challengers and Globals were under cover and in work, with a handful more parked outside. With almost 250,000sqft of space, and representing a $60 million investment, the building is impressively large, but filled with jets and a pair of Spitfires – prevented from flying by bad weather, it was difficult to properly understand its size from the hangar floor. Anyone visiting should ask to peer down the corridor that runs the length of the building and be prepared for its vertiginous extent.
Biggin Hill is Bombardier’s largest European facility, more than twice the size of the next largest, in Berlin. It will, at least for the time being, remain as the home the OEM’s owners bring their jets to from Africa and the Middle East, as well as Europe.
Gallagher was also careful to highlight that late in 2022 the Biggin Hill centre employed more than 250 people, with the aim of exceeding 350, including 260 engineers, by the end of 2023. “We’re the largest employer at the airport. We need lots of people to ensure we return customers’ aircraft to the air as quickly as possible.”
Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) aircraft are another important aspect of Bombardier’s service offer, one that is making its own use of OEM facilities including Biggin Hill. Coming up on its second anniversary, the CPO business is not unlike schemes offered by car manufacturers. Gallagher explained: “We proactively seek the best pre-owned aircraft on the market, bring them into our facilities and retrofit them with the latest technologies. It’s another big change in business aviation over the past decade. The newest technology used to only be available off the production line, but today most of the technology available on the production line is also available by retrofit.”
The aircraft that emerge typically have new cabins, fully upgraded cockpit and cabin avionics, full connectivity solutions and new paint; a 12-month warranty is also included. On average, Gallagher said certified pre-owned aircraft spend 50% less time on the market than the equivalent uncertified jet.

More than a building
Gallagher has been directly involved in sustainability efforts not only with Bombardier but also across the industry, since 2007. It is no surprise, then, that the Biggin Hill building has been built with sustainability as a primary consideration. In the final phase of its completion, the facility’s roof is being covered with solar panels during the first half of 2023. Bombardier has also committed to operating all test flights out of the airfield on SAF. “We’re in constant dialogue to raise sustainability to the next level and wherever we go in the world we build ties with the local community and environment on sustainability and other areas, including hiring talent and working with local colleges on apprenticeship schemes.” At Biggin Hill, Bombardier is working with Marshall Skills Academy in partnership with other airport residents to generate new talent.
As General Manager Bombardier London, Paul Thompson is responsible for the Biggin Hill facility and directly involved in the apprentice programme. He explained that there is more to the site than Bombardier alone, with a 12,000sqft workshop dedicated to cabin refurbishment and repair and showcasing the extraordinary technologies and craftsmanship embodied in the F/LIST brand. The Austrian company already has a centre at the airport and further staff will be embedded in the new Bombardier building.
Describing the building itself, Thompson said: “It’s one of the largest dual cantilever buildings in the UK and it has no stanchions, which means wide open bays and doors that can fully open. There’s also a 5-tonne crane. We can fit seven Global 7500s on each side, or a total of 22 Global Express aircraft, but the building’s configuration gives us maximum flexibility to fit in a mix of large aircraft with smaller aircraft around them. We have all our services – workshops and offices – down the centre of the building where they are better placed to support the engineers.”
Helping make the most of its investment in facilities and people, and satisfy burgeoning customer demand, Bombardier is commitment to run the new building 24/7, Thompson confirmed. “It will help keep us competitive, with a full night shift keeping us running. It’s indicative of how the industry has changed. The aircraft are flying more and so downtime has a more significant impact on operations.”
Thompson’s enthusiasm for the building and its effect on local businesses was tangible. “There’s a lot of energy in the place and there are few places better than this to work around the world. And we’re talking to the local council to provide better accommodation and facilities in Biggin Hill.”
London Biggin Hill Airport is steeped in aviation history, hosts a wide variety of aviation operators and service providers, features a newly refurbished Jetex FBO and proudly boasts its own newly completed hotel. Bombardier’s service centre has been a catalyst for recent development and is likely to remain so. Jean-Christophe Gallagher says Bombardier recognised the airport owners’ vision for the future as one that matches its own and has seen the establishment of one of Europe’s largest dedicated business jet MRO facilities in the UK.