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Small is beautiful

Adam Twidell, CEO of PrivateFly, explains why big isn’t better when it comes to business aviation airports


You might think that landing a smaller aircraft at a large airport, with lots of space and many runways to choose from, would be a breeze.

But in fact, when it comes to airport size for business aviation flights, it’s a case of smaller is better. Here’s why bigger airports don’t work for private jets.

Stuck in the holding stack
At larger airports it’s uncommon for any pilot to be granted a straight in, no delay approach. More often than not, a private jet (as with all other aircraft) will be put in a holding pattern, due to the sheer volume of aircraft moving in and out. At smaller airports, pilots often have an uninterrupted entry.

Holding is a normal part of operations at a large airport but for fractional or card holder private jet users this can cost because they are billed per minute on the actual flight time. Charter customers don’t usually pay more, but they do lose time.

A more hurried approach
When in the cruise phase of a flight, the speed of a private jet is not much different to an airliner. But smaller jets tend to fly slower when coming closer to landing. And without air traffic restrictions, this would result in larger airliners ‘tailgating’ smaller aircraft.

So at larger airports, where private jets and airline flights are sharing the same airspace, air traffic control will often direct private jet pilots to keep their speed at or above 200 knots until they are 4 nautical miles from the runway.

For most experienced private jet crew this isn’t an issue, but more junior pilots may find this faster pace of events before landing a bit hectic operationally. Flying above 200 knots normally requires the aircraft to be clean without flaps, landing gear or speed brakes extended. So having to fly in faster means pre-landing checks need to be done in more of a hurry, just prior to landing.

A more difficult landing
You would think landing a smaller jet on a longer runway would be no problem – there’s lots of space after all. But problems can arise just after you land. As a pilot you need to get off that big airport runway pretty quickly – as landing just 30 seconds behind you might be a Boeing 777, which will be less than impressed if it has to go around because you didn’t get off the runway in time.

So when a small aircraft lands on a long runway at an international airport, it has to get off quickly. This technique involves using fast turn-offs and less braking; often pilots will actually accelerate after landing to quickly get off the runway.

Long and complex taxiing
Taxiing a private jet at a large airport can be a highly intensive period with multiple opportunities for making embarrassing mistakes – small aircraft have been known to get lost at a larger airport! While commercial airline pilots become very familiar with the small number of airports they use, there are over 3,000 private jet airports in Europe, so often private jet pilots are given very complicated and long taxi instructions by unsympathetic air traffic controllers.

Parking problems
Surprisingly, larger airports are not set up as efficiently to handle private jets as smaller airfields. So if the aircraft is staying overnight, you might be parked in the middle of a cargo area or longer term parking which can be miles away from the FBO. For the crew, this makes it more difficult to meet and greet passengers when they arrive and escort them quickly to their onward vehicle.

Customs delays
Smaller airports often won’t have the same customs (for passport entry checks) as larger airports – the checks are still made, but they are less obtrusive and designed around the customer. Larger airports can’t really operate like this, so their inflexible customs procedures can result in delays on the ground.

Ground transport gridlock
Most private jet customers value the time saved on the ground, so it can be frustrating to eat into that time-saving by sitting in a long traffic jam in the car leading in or out of the airport.

Traffic build-up on the major motorways and roads around bigger airports is much more of an issue than at smaller airports, which are much better for a fast getaway after your flight.

Smaller airports are better for private jet customers. While there are some exceptions, at PrivateFly, we almost always recommend our customers use smaller airports over larger international airports. Private jet travel is focused around customer service and speed, and major international airports just can’t match smaller ones in these areas.

November 3, 2015


About the author
Adam Twidell is PrivateFly’s CEO and co-founder. After 10 years as an RAF pilot followed by flying private jets himself, Adam saw the opportunity to use technology to transform the fragmented private jet market.

Image courtesy of PrivateFly.



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