London’s Diverse Alternative

posted on 15th May 2019
London’s Diverse Alternative

London Oxford Airport offers all the facilities expected of an IS-BAH approved FBO, with easy onward transfer to London and a diverse range of based MROs, operators and service companies. It’s also a centre for pilot training and headquarters of Airbus Helicopters UK

Thanks largely to its university, the oldest such establishment in the English-speaking world, Oxford is known and held in high regard internationally. Those with an interest in the automobile industry might also know it for its long association with motor manufacturing, latterly as a site of BMW Mini production, and motorsport aficionados will appreciate the proliferation of Formula 1 team facilities in the region. Silverstone, site of the British Grand Prix, is around 50 minutes’ drive away and easily accessible by helicopter. Meanwhile, the air-minded will recognise Oxford for its long association with pilot training, and they’re likely to know London Oxford Airport too.

Oxford offers such a range of attractions it is easy to forget that it’s within easy reach of London, so much so that London Oxford Airport is a real, popular and increasingly attractive alternative for business and VIP travellers visiting the city. In fact, the airport sits more or less halfway between London and Birmingham, the centre of England’s industrial Midlands, making it the ideal jumping off point for the capital and industry.

Significantly, the airport management works hard to make visiting London Oxford an easy decision, with favourable opening hours – especially by comparison with other London executive airport facilities, were summertime restrictions on night-time operating hours and reduced slot availability are growing causes for concern – and easy connections.

London Oxford’s surprisingly broad array of aviation tenants includes VIP helicopter operator Capital Air Services. Helicopters are therefore readily available and trips into London Battersea Heliport achieved not only quickly, but at preferential rates, since Reuben Brothers owns both facilities. Helicopter transfer takes just 22 minutes.

Thanks to its favourable position with regards to helicopter operations, connections between London Oxford and Battersea can be had for less than £2,000, less than from any other London airport. As an added incentive for those visiting Oxford and interlining into Battersea by helicopter, the airport reduces aircraft landing fees by 50%.

Last year the airport produced an entertaining video demonstrating the ease of reaching London by road. The doggy star easily completed the journey to Kensington in the hour, but anyone who’s ever tangled with the traffic at the M40/M25 intersection on a bad day will tell you that’s not always going to happen.

Large Jets Up

Speaking in mid-April, James Dillon-Godfray, Head of Business Development at London Oxford Airport, provided an overview of the previous year’s operations and new and existing tenant companies. “Over all the airports handling business aviation movements within an hour’s radius of London, we’ve seen around 85,000 movements in the past 12 months, or 230 movements per day, making London the busiest European city. Nonetheless, that’s down by 7.5% compared to the previous period; it had been steadily increasing. Some in the industry believe Brexit is at least partly the cause, but I remain to be convinced.

“We see around 5,500 business aircraft movements at Oxford per year. Of those, our large jet numbers are creeping up and turboprops are considerably increased. The latter is thanks largely to fractional-ownership PC-12 operator Jetfly, which is also bringing the PC-24 to Oxford. For several years we’ve averaged around 8,000 passengers, but last year the figure rose to 10,000, marking a notable change.

“Our other key activity has for decades been pilot training, but last year it dipped to its lowest ever. Brexit is categorically turning people away because of the uncertainty. Given the choice of alternative locations elsewhere in Europe, some entire courses are being sent to Spain, or wherever. It is slowly picking up again though, and we also have some new companies starting operations. The global demand for pilots is huge and the opportunity for the UK, which arguably offers some of the best pilot training in the world, to provide that is vast, but there are numerous issues making the UK a difficult place for students to come to, including taxation, which makes training here more expensive than in the rest of Europe, and visas, which can be very difficult for some non-EU nationals to obtain.”

Nonetheless, as the demand for new pilots is realised, so more students are looking for courses and training centres are finding themselves short of instructors. The result is that schools are fighting among themselves for too few instructors, all of whom are now able to demand higher salaries. At the same time, some of the larger schools have become oversubscribed and are subcontracting courses to smaller organisations. London Oxford, home to CAE Oxford Aviation Academy, Airways Aviation, Take Flight Aviation, HeliGroup and Go Fly Oxford operations, is observing with interest.

MRO Expansion

London Oxford’s smart approach to airport management has seen it progressively and constantly upgrade and expand the facilities it offers its tenants. Hangar 14, a recently completed £2-million facility offering approximately 16,000sqft (1,500m2), already houses new MRO provider Jet Maintenance International (JMI). Specialising in Citation and Falcon variants, JMI offers line, base and AOG capabilities, with an initial focus on the more popular Cessna Citation 510 Mustang, 525 CJ and 560 Excel/XLS, and Dassault Falcon 2000 and 900.

But London Oxford is far from new to the MRO business, hosting Volare Aviation, which also offers aircraft charter, management and sales, and GlobeAir, the latter newly installed after Gama Aviation moved out in 2018. GlobeAir, which specialises in Citation Mustang charter, previously relied on Gama for its maintenance, but now uses the Oxford facility to complete the work in-house. One third of the charters flown by its 20-aircraft fleet operate out of the UK.

Patrick Marchant, GlobeAir’s Head of Maintenance, says the company is essentially an air taxi operator, using the example of a London Oxford to Paris trip to illustrate its appeal; he reckons the journey can be completed in 45 minutes. He explains: “Oxford is a great choice for us to have an engineering facility, not only for getting aircraft in, but also for sending teams out to other airports.

“Our aircraft are taxis, not buses, so they often don’t come back at night. That means they need to be fixed wherever they are. Birmingham and Heathrow are both less than an hour away, while I can also send people on a Mustang directly from here if necessary, the aircraft they fly out on taking over from the AOG while they fix it.”

Working on the periphery of traditional MRO, well-established aircraft detailing and interior/exterior cleaning company Up & Away is another of London Oxford’s new tenants, having moved its headquarters to the airport while retaining outposts at a number of other UK airfields. The company’s detailing arm was responsible for the ‘cash’ graphics decorating AVIAÂ’s ‘money jet’ at last year’s EBACE event, while the cleaning side of the business is currently expanding with major new airline contracts. Up & Away is also hoping to expand its business aircraft valet service from the UK to Paris and Nice.

London Oxford is home to Airbus Helicopters UK and an Airbus Corporate Helicopters centre of excellence, rotary-wing MRO is therefore another of the airfield’s major businesses. A constant stream of police, military, para-public and VIP helicopters visits the site for a variety of services and Airbus also delivers new aircraft from the facility.

Service Providers

AVIAÂ is among a number of service companies calling London Oxford home. The business aviation group purchasing organisation debuted at last year’s EBACE show and has since been taking the industry by storm. Its headquarters remains at London Oxford, while it also has a US office.

AVIAÂ was busy at EBACE 2018, but it was an important event for hullo Aircrew too, another London Oxford resident, which launched its online freelance aircrew and operators connection platform in Geneva. Like AVIAÂ and hullo Aircrew, Travion started out at Oxford and has since expand the delivery of its particular brand of flight management to business aircraft operators and airlines. It has a second office in Prague.

London Oxford Airport serves its business and VIP customers through the dedicated, IS-BAH accredited Oxfordjet FBO. With no third-party handling agents or fuelling companies operating at the airport, services including fuel, valet and ground support are all managed directly through the FBO.

World Fuel Services recently took over London Oxford’s fuel supply contract under a new five-year arrangement. The transition between suppliers took place seamlessly overnight into 1 February. Noel Siggery, World Fuel Services’ Director Supply and Market Development says: “It includes jet and avgas fuel supplies and fuelling trucks, plus full maintenance support for the vehicles and fuel farms at Oxford and Battersea. All fuelling staff are using our popular training platform and we’re looking to construct a new fuel farm at Oxford.” Dillon-Godfray notes that as well as showing its age, the current fuel farm is inconveniently located, effectively denying the airport valuable development space.

His observation and view to the future is typical of the airport management’s proactive approach to satisfying customers and improving infrastructure; they’re already working closely with local authorities on airport lighting, airspace management and construction projects, all designed to make London Oxford Airport the preferred choice for visiting London to the south and the industrial Midlands to the North.