01 April 2008 – Director Magazine
Don’t forget about the small airports says Alastair McKenzie.
In case you hadn’t noticed all the fuss, a new state-of-the-art airport terminal is opening, offering luxury lounge facilities, speedy check-ins and security screening to the hard-pressed business traveler.
Terminal 5? Well yes, Heathrow has one too, but I was actually thinking about Oxford Airport.
Oxford Airport’s new owners, the Reuben brothers, have been quietly investing in a number of improvements that should transform the airport into a business aviation centre to rival Biggin Hill, Farnborough and London City. Last Summer, the runway was widened and strengthened. It is now capable of taking aircraft up to the size and weight of the Boeing BBJ and Airbus A318 Elite.
A newly acquired large capacity fire tender will enable the airport to raise its fire and rescue cover to Category 6, crucial for competing with the big boys. The last piece of the jigsaw is a brand new business aviation terminal, due to open in June. Why is this important, particularly when everybody is so focused on Heathrow? As the IoD’s recent High Fliers research project – conducted with BMI – shows, despite fears of an economic slowdown, over 50 per cent of IoD members predict strong growth in business travel over the next three years and 70 per cent support the need for airport expansion, recognising the important role air transport plays in generating business and investment for the UK.
The High Fliers report concludes that a 10 per cent increase in air travel can raise business investment by up to 1.6 per cent, and that such an increase could raise UK GDP by 0.6 per cent. Heathrow is crucially important to any expansion of UK air services but it is just a part of the overall picture laid out in the most recent White Paper on the future of air transport. More importantly, despite its shiny new terminal, Heathrow already operates at 99.9 per cent capacity and can’t expand without the controversial third runway, which is not going to happen soon. In the meantime, regional airports, particularly those with spare capacity, are in pole position.
Last year, Oxford Airport handled 50,000 movements (over a third of which was flying-school traffic). But with opening hours now extended to seven days a week, it has the capacity to cope with 160,000 flights. Unlike Heathrow, Oxford will have a new terminal and the capacity to do something with it.