Every year thousands of horse racing fans descend upon Cheltenham Racecourse in the UK to witness one of the most important and iconic jump racing events in the calendar.
The Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse is a four-day affair that will see 28 races occur from March 10 – 13, culminating in the much-anticipated Gold Cup Day.
BAI spoke to Becky Carver, managing director at Weston Aviation, an FBO service provider at nearby Gloucestershire Airport (EGBJ/GLO), to see if they are anticipating an increase in visiting aircraft during The Cheltenham Festival Week and what plans they have in place.
Could you explain the logistics of planning for an event like this?
As planning is the key to hosting a successful event, we usually start preparing our Festival operational plan at least two to three months in advance.
Due to the influx of aircraft associated with Festival traffic, it is vital that we engage with relevant airport departments as a similar amount of planning is required at airport level to ensure a successful outcome. We are extremely fortunate that the airport teams at EGBJ/GLO are very supportive and flexible.
Once Festival booking requests start coming in, we begin the process of planning aircraft parking, obtaining slots, arranging passenger and crew ground transportation and catering requests, ensuring sufficient staffing levels and checking ground equipment serviceability. Other considerations are to ensure our lounges are fully stocked in order to provide complimentary beverages and snacks for passengers and crew throughout the week.
It’s important to be very flexible due to numerous schedule changes and additional bookings which impact on the operational plan. As numerous aircraft arrive and depart at the same time, coordinating staff and vehicles to be in the correct position is imperative.
Like any event, it’s also important to have a contingency plan. Having handled many events similar to this previously, we always have a Plan B to mitigate potential problems on the day. However, if things don’t always go to plan, we have to take it in our stride, maintain a sense of humour and do our best to find a solution.
Despite the increase of aircraft movements and associated demands, it’s also important for the FBO team to enjoy the week as it is extremely rewarding and fun.
What have you done differently this year?
Last year we had only just taken occupancy of our FBO and hangar and it was our first year of operating the FBO at EGBJ/GLO during the Festival. With the experience we gained we have been able to expand and improve our service offering which we hope will be appreciated by our visitors.
We’ve had a busy year refurbishing and creating an additional lounge to accommodate larger numbers of passengers and crew and invested in amenities to enhance the FBO experience.
We have also brought in additional staff from our network of FBOs to assist in facilitating a well-coordinated week.
How much are you expecting the traffic to your FBO to increase?
We have been taking bookings for the Festival since January and this year has seen a 15% increase in bookings. There is no sign that the COVID-19 virus has made any impact on this year’s bookings which is very encouraging. As long as the weather isn’t too inclement, we are looking forward to a successful and busy week.
Any advice for people planning to fly to the event?
As the airport operates a slot allocation for all aircraft during this week, it’s advisable to book in advance to ensure flight timings can be accommodated. It’s also advisable to ensure that hotel and transportation requirements have been arranged in advance due to the popularity of the Festival which impacts price and availability.
Airports near Cheltenham Racecourse
If you are planning flights to the races get ahead of the pack with BAI’s round-up of the closest airports to the course.
Gloucestershire Airport is 5 miles away from Cheltenham Racecourse and operates from Monday to Friday 08:30 – 19:30; Sat and Sun 09:00 – 18:00. FBO operations are provided by Executive Aviation Services, Flightpartner, Gloucestershire Airport, The Little Jet Company and Weston Aviation.
Cotswold Airport is 24 miles away from Cheltenham Racecourse and is open between 09:00–17:00, seven days a week.
London Oxford Airport
42 miles away from Cheltenham Racecourse is Oxford Airport. The operating hours are 06:00-22:30 seven days a week and FBO operations are provided by Oxfordjet Terminal.
Coventry Airport is 50 miles away from Cheltenham Racecourse and is open between 09:00 – 17:00. FBO operations are provided by Coventry Airport FBO.
Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green Airport
Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green Airport 50 miles away from the racecourse and has operating hours between 09:00–18:00.
55 miles away from Cheltenham Racecourse is Bristol Airport. The airport is open 24/7 and FBO operations are provided by Bristol Flying Centre.
Birmingham Airport is 57 miles away from the racecourse and it is open 24/7. FBO operations are provided by Atlantic Aviation.