In the wake of investment by several operators, Stansted is pushing hard to become London’s business aviation airport of choice
This year has seen some serious FBO activity at London Stansted, with the opening of both new and refurbished facilities. Aero Toy Store, one of the best known names in business jet trading in the US, chose the airport as its entry point into Europe. Fayair, a new venture by former Harrods department store owner Mohammed Al-Fayed, has developed an FBO, available to third-party clients for the first time, at a reported cost of £12 million.
Last but not least, Universal Aviation – based for 25 years at Stansted in what was only designed as a temporary building – has inaugurated a new look, state-of-the-art FBO that it now describes as its European flagship. The three new and upgraded operations sit alongside existing FBOs Harrods Aviation, which is present at both Stansted and Luton, and Inflite the Jet Centre.
Aero Toy Store took over the massive Diamond Hangar, formerly occupied by SR Technics, and redeveloped it as a 23,000sq metre one-stop shop combining four separate functions. In addition to its role as one of the single largest VIP passenger handling facilities in the world, the site is also licensed to carry out completions and interior refits in association with Italian automotive designer Pininfarina (ATS has existing completion centres at its Fort Lauderdale headquarters and in Montreal); it further claims to be the only FBO in Europe that can handle line maintenance up to B737 size; and finally, it will sell aircraft like its US parent.
Indeed, the jet showroom could also display luxury car marques such as Lamborghinis and Ferraris alongside the aircraft, reflecting founder Morris Shirazi’s first passion. He set up Aero Toy Store in 1993 as a sideline to finance aircraft for customers of his Auto Toy Store, which deals in luxury cars. Air overtook road to become the larger part of the business and ATS now claims to be the world’s largest trader in pre-owned corporate aircraft.
Industry veteran Mike Foley, MD of Aero Toy Store Europe, says: “Stansted has been a poor cousin to Farnborough and Luton and has not really promoted itself, but it offers exceptional flexibility, 24-hour operations and no congestion.” He promises “a better experience than Luton”.
ATS is actively targeting the VVIP and large widebody end of the market. The hangar can house two B747s alongside one another, or up to 25 smaller business jets, and there’s secure ramp space for 50 more aircraft.
The facility is positioned well away from Stansted’s other FBOs, on the opposite side of the airport, with onsite customs and immigration services including passenger screening as required. ATS offers a dedicated concierge service and 10-minute helicopter transfers to London.
“We have our own ramp access and it’s us who man the gate,” says ground operations manager Iain Fountain. “So cars can be available to pick up clients airside immediately on arrival, or they can come into the VIP area as they wish.”
The deal to acquire the facility was not completed until April, and it proved impossible to complete its conversion in time for the Olympics, though ATS did receive the entire Kazakhstan delegation on the eve of the Games. The group, headed by president Nursultan Nazarbayev, arrived on an A330. “We’re of a size that can cope with government departments and heads of state,” Foley says.
A charter operator typically picks an FBO on price, while VIPs pay more attention to the quality of the experience, Fountain emphasises. ATS has spared no effort here, providing 1,600sq metres of main lounges plus five private lounges/meeting rooms. Amenities include five-star dining, a boutique and a fitness studio.
Pilots have the use of high-specification rest and catering facilities for short turns of up to five hours. On longer stopovers, they would normally expect to transfer to a local hotel, but the aim is to encourage them to stay on site. “We want to make this a VIP experience for them as well as for the customer,” Fountain says.
Universal Aviation meanwhile officially inaugurated its completely renovated 1,000sq metre FBO in September at a celebration where clients and airport officials sampled a new Lebanese menu.
The refurbishment includes all-new crew and passenger lounges, showers and changing rooms, a state-of-the-art business centre and video conferencing facility, two client meeting rooms and private screening facilities. International designer Adriana Hoyos remodelled the interior to create a relaxed and sophisticated environment for travelling passengers and crews.
The facility was also been improved externally to complete Universal’s aim of offering a seamless transition, and first-class ground support, to all visiting aircraft.
“Unlike other European cities, operators travelling to London have many airport options,” Jonathan Howells, regional VP Emea, said at the opening. “We felt it was important to upgrade our facilities to meet the changing profile of our customers, many of whom make quick short-haul flights to the London area and require more amenities for both crew and passengers.
“Having an enhanced facility at Stansted is fundamental to meeting the needs of our customers in the region and globally, as it is not only home to our ground support business, but also to our 24/7 European operations centre, which offers trip facilitation within Europe and globally,” Howells added.
Universal chairman Greg Evans, who also attended the inauguration, said the project was just the latest of several major investments in Europe.
“In the last two years, we’ve added locations in Venice and Girona, bringing our total in Europe to 11. And, through the acquisition of Air Culinaire, we now have two owned kitchens in London and Paris to better meet the in-flight catering needs of our clients,” Evans said.
He believed there were great opportunities in the London market and saw Universal acting in a hand-holding role. “We want to partner with our customers, not just be a vendor. And we want to make sure our customers achieve their missions,” Evans said. “The wheels fall off not when you’re at home, but when you’re away.”
Howells told EVA that Universal had a 40% share of the Stansted market, averaging 100 movements per month excluding based aircraft. The company took a conservative approach to the Olympics but it was “excellent for us,” he said, with 130 more movements than usual during July and August.