The continuing post-Covid recovery in traffic is underscoring the business case for the third hangar Farnborough Airport intends to open in 2024. The four-bay, 175,000-sq-ft structure represents a £35 million ($47 million) investment for the private London-area airport and will almost double the available temperature-controlled space available to aircraft operators, with a waiting list now building for those wanting year-round contracts for hangar accommodation.
Last year, Farnborough (Booth U109) handled 26,003 movements—almost 60 percent of the pre-Covid record total of 32,366 in 2019 and a significant improvement on the 19,952 figure in 2020. Monthly totals in March and April were 2,718 and 2,651 movements, respectively, representing increases over the same periods in pre-Covid 2019 of between 16 and 18 percent.
As many as 90 percent of flights in and out of Farnborough are now short-haul sectors within Europe, which may reflect the reduction of transatlantic traffic experienced during the pandemic. The top-three destinations for business aircraft departing the airport are Geneva, Paris Le Bourget, and Nice.
Managed aircraft now represent around 45 percent of overall traffic, while corporate/private aircraft and fractional fleets each account for 20 percent and charter operations make up the remaining 15 percent. The airport's largest customers include VistaJet, NetJets, and Flexjet.
Farnborough is also looking to add to the number of "contact stands" it offers close to its terminal building. These are mainly used by charter operators whose passengers have to go through security checks and then can walk out to their aircraft.
However, Farnborough Airport CEO Simon Geere said airfield owner Macquarie Funds isn’t pursuing unbridled growth. The group’s mandate to Geere’s team is to achieve sustainable growth in terms of both environmental and social responsibility.
Its commitment would appear to be sincere since green investment has continued despite setbacks from the pandemic. In 2018, Farnborough became the first business aviation airport in the world to be certified by the Airports Council International as carbon neutral.
The new hangar, for which construction is expected to begin in the third quarter, will be built to the latest standards of the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method. At the same time, the airport has been increasing the availability of electrical ground power units for aircraft and its use of electric fleet vehicles.
Last month, Farnborough announced it is transitioning its diesel-powered cars on-site to the use of hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO). The WP Group is supplying the HVO, a paraffinic diesel that can directly replace standard diesel.
According to the airport, HVO can cut net greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90 percent as it is produced from 100 percent sustainable renewable feedstock such as used cooking oil and plant, food, and animal waste. Accredited to the EN15940 European standard, the fuel provides increased storage life, reduced NOx and tailpipe emissions, is not susceptible to “diesel bug” contamination, and has a low freezing point.
“The Farnborough Airport team recognizes that climate change is a clear and pressing issue and is committed to minimizing its environmental impact and improving environmental performance throughout its operations,” said Geere. “The introduction of HVO is another milestone in our sustainability program and an integral part in delivering against the government’s targets for net-zero carbon emissions.”
In July, the airport introduced permanent supplies of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Geere said sales of sustainable aviation fuel are gradually increasing, despite prices being around 50 percent more than jet-A. However, this differential has somewhat reduced in the wake of rising oil prices since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Looking ahead, Farnborough wants to be ready to open its ramp to new electric aircraft. It recently signed a memorandum of understanding with UK-based Vertical Aerospace, which is working to bring a four-passenger eVTOL aircraft into commercial service from 2024. The companies will jointly explore possibilities for integrating eVTOL air-taxi services with connecting fixed-wing business jet flights.
The interest in so-called advanced air mobility is part of the airport’s determination to expand the customer base for business aviation. Geere said that it is too soon to say whether newcomers trying private charter for the first time in response to Covid travel concerns will stick with this mode of transportation, indicating that they need to be nurtured.
Acknowledging ongoing labor shortages in the employment market, Geere said that Farnborough’s policy of being a respected employer makes sense in competitive terms, as well as being consistent with Macquarie’s commitment to corporate responsibility. The company is committed to being a "real-living wage" employer, which in the UK means paying no less than £9.90 per hour ($12.87) to anyone working at the airport.