Oxford London Airport is thriving as one of the UK’s premier business airports and has ambitious plans for the future from the increased use of single engine business turboprops to the reintroduction of commercial passenger flights. BILL READ FRAeS reports from Kidlington.

Based close to Kidlington outside Oxford, London Oxford Airport is a leading aviation hub for both private and business aviation users. The airport has over 25 tenants, covering services including pilot training, air charter, aircraft and helicopter sales, support services, aircraft maintenance and modifications. The airport has recently opened the OxfordJet business aviation centre catering for business shuttle services. There have been scheduled services from the airport, although none are operating at the present. 

History

The airfield in 1941 (OxfordJet)

According to statistics from WINGX and Eurocontrol, London Oxford Airport was the sixth busiest London airport for business and general aviation in 2016, as well as the 16th busiest in Europe. Based close to Kidlington outside Oxford, London Oxford Airport first opened in the late 1930s. Originally conceived as a ‘Municipal Airport’ for Oxford, the airfield was licenced for public use as Oxford (Campsfield) Civil Aerodrome, although first listed as Thrupp airfield. However, the onset of WW2 saw the airport being used by No.2 Group Training Pool (later No. 13 Operational Training Unit) to train RAF pilots on Harvards and Ansons and (appropriately enough) Oxfords. Civil flying resumed after the war and the final RAF unit at Kidlington, No.96 Maintenance Unit was disbanded in 1951 and the site returned to full civil use in 1959. In the 1960s, the airfield was home to CSE Aviation and the Oxford Air Training School (now Oxford Aviation Academy. Now called London Oxford Airport, the aerodrome is owned by the Reuben Brothers whose investment activities include private equity, real estate ownership and development and which also acquired the London Heliport in Battersea in 2012.  

Business expansion

The airfield is used by a variety of private and business aircraft. (OxfordJet)

Currently, there are no commercial flights operating from Oxford as use of the airport has tended more towards the business sector. “Pilot training is less important than it was and has been replaced by business aviation,” explains London Oxford Airport’s Head of Business Development, James Dillon-Godfray. The airport reported a 6.4% increase in business aviation movements over 2016, with a total of 5,629 turboprops and jets.  Recreational general aviation flights fell by 4% but helicopter movements were up 25% up to over 6,000. Airbus Helicopters, which has a UK based at the airport, reported nearly a thousand more movements on top of this figure.”

London Oxford Airport is currently home to some 65 aircraft.  The type of aircraft using Oxford has changed over the past year with the number of turboprops down by 2% and helicopters up 25%. Jets under 8 tonnes have risen by 29% while 40+ tonne jets are up 46% over the past two years and 37% year-on-year. “The fleet mix has changed with fewer turboprops and larger and smaller jets becoming more common,” explains James Dillon-Godfray. “The airport is regularly seeing larger business jets over 40 tonnes, such as the Bombardier Global and Gulfstream G650.

New rules, new aircraft

Could Oxford get a boost from new European single engine turboprop rules? (Piper Aircraft)

James Dillon-Godfray also sees future potential for the airport from new EASA regulations endorsing CAT SETops (Single Engine Turboprops in commercial operations) IFR which will permit operation of the single-engine aircraft in Europe. “We are now well placed, with an attractive cost base and infrastructure, to support the expected crop of new entrants looking to take advantage of the new rules,” he said. “A single engine turboprop can reduce costs by 20-35% over twin-engined alternatives. This means that aircraft such as a 12-seat Cessna Caravan could be used for business shuttle services which could land at GA aerodromes inaccessible to biz-jets. The airport is already looking after a new Pilatus PC-12NG for a private owner and we hope to see UK operators begin to make increased use of aircraft such as Caravans and PC-12s both on charter and scheduled service provision.”

Dillon-Godfray also sees prospects for the new Bombardier CSeries regional jet heralding the eventual reintroduction of commercial flights from Oxford. “The CSeries has the advantage that it can fly the Atlantic and also access smaller runways down to 4,000ft,” he said. (Oxford Airport’s runway is 5,000ft, the same as London City). “Local business is very keen on the idea of development of a regional airport,” he continued. “If we did reintroduce commercial flights, then we would proceed  cautiously and maybe not partner with starter airlines. If such flights did ‘take-off’, then we could build a separate stand-alone terminal with a potential capacity for up to 0.5m passengers per year.”

The Brexit factor

OxfordJet business terminal. (OxfordJet)

Dillon-Godfray also had some interesting comments to make on the implications of Brexit - most of which were to do with uncertainty. “There are so many grey areas and almost no answers,” he commented. “There is a fear that aviation will be used as bargaining chip in the negotiations. We are an EASA-certificated airport with regard to safety management and quality audits but we are not sure how Brexit will change this."

Operators are trying to plan for 2019 now and don’t know what they can do. “We don’t know how tough a stance might be taken by Spain be after the issues raised on the sovereignty of Gibraltar which might affect aviation access in Spain. We also don’t know what stance will be taken on offshore operations for aircraft currently registered in the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey. Currently, to have an aircraft operating certificate, you have to be 50% EU owned. Of the 517 fixed wing aircraft currently based in the UK, only 285 are on British ‘G’ register with 87 registered in the Isle of Man, 16 on the Guernsey register and 99 on the US ‘N’ register. Another concern is that UK airlines may have to revert to the WTO rules which do not cover freedom of the air and access rights across Europe. 

Future plans

The airport is continuing to expand its facilities. (OxfordJet)

In 2016 the airport was upgraded with brighter LED runway lighting, together with a tighter security mandate. In autumn last year, GA manufacturer Piper Aircraft established an UK office at London Oxford Airport.  Piper’s new six-seater M600 single engined turboprop is due to arrive at the airport for demos in late May as part of a 90-day European tour.

The airport is currently expanding its hangar space with the construction of a new 15,250 ft2 single, stand-alone bay with 1,850 ft2. of offices adjacent. Located at the end of Hangar No. 14, the newest development is scheduled to be available by the end of the year. “The new building is compatible with Bombardier Global 7000-sized aircraft but could also handle four Challenger-sized aircraft,” said Dillon-Godfray.

So far in 2017 the airport has welcomed new tenants new pilot app company hullo Aircrew, flight management company Travion, HeliGroup - which will offer PPL training and Cabri G2 sales -  and Cirrus Flight Training. Looking ahead to 2017-19, further enhancements to the airport infrastructure include the introduction of airfield lighting to full LED systems, EGNOS GPS LVP performance-based navigation - LVP200 (Cat 1 equivalent), full EASA compliance/ oversight (SMS/quality systems) and increased opening hours. “Our aim to have an all weather, all day capability,” says Dillon-Godfray. “The way traffic operates in and out of the airport may also change if plans go ahead for a major airspace change proposal (ACP) currently under consultation in conjuction with Brize Norton.

Bill Read
25 April 2017

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