FARNBOROUGH, U.K. -- Farnborough International Airport, located south of London, attracts aviation enthusiasts here every two years for the Farnborough International Air Show. Once a leading military research and
development airfield, Farnborough enters a new era with private investment from TAG Aviation, which owns and controls more than 160 business jets and is a part of TAG Group S.A. The goal: Make the airport England's premier business aviation facility.
According to Len Rayment, director of FBO and business development, Farnborough has been "an airfield of some description" since 1907. Most famously known for its biannual international air show, last held here in July. Until the early 1990s, the airfield was a government-owned research facility involved with "just about every form of military aviation development you could imagine," says Rayment.
He explains that in the ?80s the British government decided to dedicate Farnborough, one of three research and development airfields it was operating, to business aviation. A 50-acre site on the south side of the airfield went out for commercial tender. A civil enclave was established in 1989 by Carroll Aircraft, whose holding company, The Carroll Group, went bankrupt in 1995.
In 1999, operation of the airport was once again put out to tender to be operated as a business aviation facility. TAG Aviation submitted a successful bid and entered into a 125-year lease of the airfield, subject to obtaining planning permission and a CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) license.
CONVERTING THE AIRFIELD
"It was impossible to get a complete, accurate forecast of what it was going to cost to achieve the CAA license," says Rayment. The process to convert the airfield from its previous Military of Defense license to meet CAA regulations involved building a new $15 million control tower, reprofiling the runway, adding hangar space, installing approach aids, and a radar system. "CAA regulations are much more stringent than had previously been applied by the Military of Defense," adds Rayment.
According to Ann Bartaby, TAG Farnborough director of operations and development, each process required separate approval, making for an intense 18 months.
Says Rayment, "It had to be a very dynamic and forward thinking private company to take on that."
Another challenging aspect of converting the airfield: environmental considerations. Bartaby says the entire airport site is designated as a site of nature conservation interest by the government, with some of the airport designated as a site of special scientific interest. Moving trees and protected grass, rerouting a stream, and protecting wildlife was all done in conjunction with English Nature, Britain's conservation organization. Additionally, TAG Farnborough now has an environmental officer located on site.
Bartaby explains that the community had some doubts about the airport being operated by TAG Aviation, but the organization's efforts to be open and involved with the community have eased those. "In 2000 there was a lot of suspicion about TAG. That's changed hugely now. They (the community) can see what we've done with the site and that there's not a tremendous increase in traffic." Bartaby adds that it "makes good business sense" to have such a partnership with the community and to "show them that we're protecting the environment."
Noise monitoring equipment was also installed at the airport. While not a requirement by CAA, says Rayment, airport officials saw the importance of the investment in terms of community relations. "We put all this in voluntarily," Rayment says of two stationary systems and a mobile unit. "But it all added to the cost that we really didn't expect."
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