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Industry Opinion

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How do you make business aviation airports competitive?

Robert Walters, business development director at London Biggin Hill Airport, explores how business airports should be striving for efficiency in every service they provide, and how they can prepare for the growing demands of business aviation.

Today, thanks to the democratizing power of the internet, almost any organization can extend its reach to become a global business. Despite this, we all know that Skype is a poor replacement for a real-life face-to-face meeting, so anyone keeping an eye on the business horizon will have expected that business aviation would experience a resurgence – WingX Advance’s report showing that 2017 has had a 3% increase in flights year-to-date confirms this.

With more travelers to accommodate and compete for, business airports must prioritize modernization and expansion to meet the growing demand. A single improvement such as extending operating hours can give an airport’s business aviation movements a much-needed boost. At London Biggin Hill Airport (LBHA) in the UK, implementing new operating hours of 6:30am to 11:00pm on weekdays and 8:00am to 10:00pm at weekends has increased movements by 21%.

Making preparations such as these will propel the modern business aviation airport into the future and help it to attain the ultimate business travel ideal – complete, wall-to-wall efficiency across every service.

Business travelers
Business travelers demand exceptional levels of speed, efficiency and seamlessness from an airport, because when every wasted minute standing in a queue or waiting for their jet costs them money, it is down to the airport to keep that cost as low as possible. By streamlining every service to make transit, arrival, and departure as smooth and fast as possible, an airport can help reduce or even reclaim lost time for the traveler.

There are several examples of this efficiency in action. In over 200 locations, Signature’s FBOs have dedicated spaces and VIP meeting rooms to ensure every spare minute can be utilized for business. Providing a direct route to the nearest city is also necessary when every minute counts; LBHA provides the fastest transfer to central London through its six-minute London Heli Shuttle service.

Queuing, too, is the antithesis of efficiency. If a dedicated business aviation airport has its own Border Agency office in the terminal, travelers can breeze through passport and security checks in a matter of minutes. However, it is only by coordinating these services with every other part of the airport that true efficiency can be achieved.

Aircraft
For a fully integrated service, airports should aim to replicate every visiting aircraft’s home base, with each service such as refueling, maintenance, refurbishing and catering working together to make the aircraft’s turnaround swift and seamless. Operators should be able to have an aircraft secured, a new part fitted or specialist catering supplied all in one place.

When schedules can change mid-flight, it also helps to make an airport as open as possible for unexpected arrivals or changes to the timetable. Removing runway slot restrictions is essential if an airport wants to work with those to-the-minute itineraries; and with every part of the airport working in sync, new aircraft can be absorbed into the cycle of services with little disruption.

In the UK and across the globe, modernizing airspaces will result in a marked increase in air traffic and with more aircraft in our skies, it is imperative that landing restrictions help to alleviate, rather than heighten, the issues that may accompany such change.

Infrastructure
It is only by fully supporting aspirations with infrastructure that an airport can hope to become entirely efficient. Growth is facilitated by identifying and then eliminating barriers to efficiency – for instance, LBHA has a new 60,000ft² (5,574m²) hangar on track to be completed by the end of the year in addition to the impending construction of a four-star crew hotel.

This means that in the near future, every element that contributes toward a successful flight can be located on-site. While UK airports await a fair framework for sustainable growth from the government, they must in the meantime take the initiative, identify their own weaknesses, and deliver the infrastructure to solve them.

Such projects provide a boost for the region’s community as well as the airport, meaning new jobs are filled by knowledgeable local staff. Working closely with local government means that airports can put in place programs to train the next generation of staff – this is a necessary endeavor, as the aviation industry is threatened by a shortage of skilled engineers. Business aviation airports must lead the way to ensure these highly-skilled professionals will still be available in the future, or risk disrupting the efficiency of its services.

In the business aviation airport industry efficiency is king, but being confident that that same level of efficiency will be sustainable in the future – that is an airport’s real challenge.

September 4, 2017

 

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