22 August 2012 – The Oxford Times
Chris Koenig talks to the 31-year-old managing director of Oxford Aviation Services
What, I wonder, was the secret of success for high-flier Andi Pargeter, the newly appointed 31-year-old managing director of Oxford Aviation Services, owner of Oxford Airport ?
London Oxford Airport to give it its full title, employs 70 staff and turns over about £10m a year. It is also the workplace for another 800 people, all employed by one or other of the 20 tenants on the 365-acre site – so landing such a job is not bad going for one so young.
Ms Pargeter said, modestly enough : “I think the owners like people to be hands-on. To not only see quickly what a problem is, but also to be able to say ‘this is how we can fix it’.”
She has a transcending love of working in the transport business: any kind of transport; from the horses she keeps near her home at Childrey, near Wantage, to trains and now planes and helicopters.
She said : “The thing about transport is that it is to tangible. You can really see and feel what the money is being spent on”.
And as for flying – apparently effortlessly – through the so-called glass ceiling, which some say is a barrier to many career women, she said : “I never went to university and started my career ages 21 with FirstGroup, at First Great Western headquarters in Swindon.
“Perhaps the fact the managing director there was a woman. Alison Forster, encouraged me to believe that I could go anywhere.”
She has worked at the airport since July 2010 when she became head of finance, working for the owners – multi-millionaire property and data centre developers, David and Simon Reuben (jointly listed at number eight in the Sunday Times Rich List, with £7bn of estimated assets).
Since then she has seen the brothers pour about £10m of investment into the airport including £4m in new radar equipment. She has also been closely involved in the brothers’ acquisition of Barclays London Heliport, in Battersea, and will now work with that heliport in order to maximize opportunities between the two sites.
Clearly, her knowledge of the owner’s other aviation interest is key here. Clearly, too, the brothers and indeed David’s son Jamie, who acts as spokesman for them, see a bright future for regional airports – in much the same way, ironically enough, as was envisaged by Oxford City Council back in 1935 – when it first bought the land near Kidlington and established the Oxford Municipal Aerodrome.
The thinking back then was without an airport the city would be left behind in much the same way as once happened to Abingdon, which lost its country town of Berkshire status in 1867 after turning its back on the railway.
In the event the Second World War interfered with the commercial development of the airport. The Air Ministry requisitioned it and did not give it back until 1959. But could we now be flying back to the future ? Could it be that, in five years or so, flying between regional airports will be no unusual thing to do ?
Jamie Reuben said : “We see the airport as a long-term investment – you don’t see immediate returns on enhancing the infrastructure of what was originally a Second World War aerodrome. It’s a very valuable asset to the Thames Valley region as the only commercially-capable airport between Heathrow and Birmingham.
“Since the start of the economic downturn in 2007, indeed when the airport was acquired by us, we have been pleased to see if evolve as fastest growing airport for business aviation in the UK and win awards for the passenger facilities.”
Today there are about: 40,000 air movements (landings and take-offs) a year at the airport – of which about 55 per cent are for pilot training purposes, 15 per cent business aviation, and most of the rest light recreational flying and helicopters.
In addition there is the budding business of scheduled services, now consisting of daily flights by the airline Manx2.com to the Isle of Man and to Jersey.
The airport has ambitious expansion plans here. Ms Pargeter said : “The local population within 30 minutes of the airport has significant year-round air travel demands. This includes large volumes travelling for business use to UK domestic and near European commercial centres.”
She added that the destinations the company had identified as needing year-round daily operations from Oxford (because passengers are required to travel from less convenient UK airports to the north and south of the area) were Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris, Munich, Frankfurt, Geneva and Zurich.
Ms Pargeter said that services to some destination within this group were “targeted to see operations commence in 2013”. But she added: ”It’s too early to say exactly which of these services we think will start next year.”
But is this the thin end of the wedge ? Will Oxford one day develop into something similar to another Birmingham Airport –after all, it too started small and remained small until the 1960s?
“No way”, said Ms Pargeter. “We shall never be a large airport. We are looking at the business market and we shall stick to that. We are also restricted by the runway as to the size of aircraft we can take.”