‘The Birthplace of British Aviation’: TAG Farnborough Airport and the new heritage of general aviation

The team, shareholders and board at TAG Farnborough Airport have something which is not common in many airports across the world: breathing space and the time to reflect.

After securing a ninety-nine year lease to operate the airport at the end of the 1990’s – the airport was formally a military airfield owned by the British Ministry of Defence –  there has been a number of changes at the airport which has allowed TAG a very comfortable claim as the best business aviation airport outside North America.

Farnborough, forty or so miles from London, has a long history of aviation and its aviation heritage is well known to the world. The airport is the longest continually operated site in the U.K.. As the de facto birthplace of British aviation, Samuel Cody flew the first powered flight from the airfield. It now stands as a proud example of business aviation.

Since purchase, TAG have invested over 200 million GBP into the airport and its surrounding facilities. Since then, as Brandon O’Reilly, CEO of the airport states, TAG Farnborough has been “built from the ground-up for business aviation. The only dedicated business aviation airport in the U.K..”

The operating licence that TAG was granted does not even allow for scheduled services to leave or arrive at the airport. There are no flying schools, commercial aircraft or any “other distractions from serving customers” when it comes to business aviation, O’Reilly notes.

CEO, Brendan O’Reilly

TAG are now the owners and operators of the airport, its FBO and TAG staff work on all aspects of service for clients from terminal service to aircraft refuelling. Border Force agents even visit aircraft on the apron ensuring an easier process for customers.

New hangars, built during the busy summer of 2012, are wave-form looking buildings that act as “parking garages” for customers’ aircraft. They are one of the most notable infrastructure developments in the last few years. A particular pride of place for O’Reilly is the new gymnasium, that was built to allow pilots and other flight crew a means of exercise and the ability to keep fit.

The positive trends in business for TAG, highlighted by O’Reilly, are difficult not to admire. 2017 was a good year in terms of movements for the airport with over twenty-seventhousand movements recorded. This was consequential of a number of different factors.

With Britain’s commitment to leaving the European Union the airport saw that many customers of the airport saw an “opportunity in change” in terms of travelling for investment.

Moreover, a major catalyst for increased numbers of movements at the airport is how commercial airports are squeezing out business aviation for scheduled passenger services. Heathrow Airport, as Brandon gives as an example, saw much, much more movements with business aircraft in the seventies and eighties. This is now very rare at the London airport. In more of a recent example, traffic that is finding it increasingly difficult to land at Luton is flying to Farnborough. Also RAF Northolt is increasingly focusing on military aircraft movements and is regularly closed for differing periods of time to civilian aviation which reduces the amount of business aviation movements, some of which are flying over to Farnborough.

TAG Farnborough Airport also succeeded in increasing the permitted aircraft movement cap from 28,000 to 50,000 a year. TAG are only at just over half capacity at the airport and have committed to growing the airport’s activity sustainably. They are also awaiting a decision by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority on an application to designate more of the airspace around the airport as “controlled”. This will reduce the environmental impact by allowing more direct flight paths over less densely populated areas.

2017 was a record year in terms of movements for the airport and 2018 is set to be even more special. O’Reilly notes that there has been an 18.7% increase in movements in Q1 2018 compared to the first three months of last year. If this trend continues, 2018 will be the busiest year on record for TAG.

At TAG Farnborough, the customer philosophy that is championed by CEO, Brandon O’Reilly is to ensure bespoke can-do attitude.  If the team can do it for their customers, they will. With infrastructure and projects completed and appropriately in place; with the freedom to expand and increase movements to fill capacity, TAG can focus on providing a five-star service for its clients. The best business aviation airport outside North America? It certainly presents the best case for it.