Biggin Hill Airport gives notice to training schools

Biggin Hill Runway

Biggin Hill Airport has told the three based flying schools there, that their leases will not be renewed.  This effectively means that ab-initio training at the aerodrome will cease in six months’ time. 

** This story has been updated o 26/0718.  Scroll to the bottom **

Falcon Flying Group’s Director Anoop Singh Bamrah, who runs EFG flying school announced the news on the school’s Facebook page on Monday evening, adding that he was shocked by the decision.

The chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Aviation said that he would be urging the airport management to re-think the decision.  Grant Shapps MP told The Flying Reporter:

“Flybe and easyJet operate alongside a GA flying school at Southend. It works for them and can work for Biggin Hill. We will be seeking an urgent meeting with their management.”

The airport recently received permission to extend its opening hours, and says 2300 new jobs will be created there over the next 20 years as it focuses on business aviation.  But the growth in business aviation during 2017 has seen increasing restrictions on flying training and private flying, including limits on circuit training and the closure of runway 29/11.  The airport has said previously that its operations are becoming more complex, thus making it harder to accommodate training flights.

EFG Flying School said that it was looking for a new home, and assured its students that any pre-purchased packages would be honoured.   Anoop Singh Bamrah told The Flying Reporter that Surrey & Kent Flying Club’s lease expires in three months, EFG’s in six.

In a statement, the airport said the decision was a necessary step to maintain safety.

Following an increase in business aviation investment from across the globe and consequent rise in business aviation activity, London Biggin Hill has decided to reduce the volume of light aviation at the airport.

As it has become increasingly difficult to keep light aircraft separated from modern high performance business jets, the airport has become more suitable for experienced pilots only. London Biggin Hill has concluded that reducing the volume of light aviation traffic is a necessary step to maintain the high safety standards to which the airport operates.

Will Curtis, Managing Director, London Biggin Hill Airport, says: “After a great deal of careful consideration, we have reluctantly decided that reducing the volume of light aviation at London Biggin Hill is the only way to address the safety concerns that have arisen as a result of the growth of business aviation at the airport.

“Although we are committed to providing dedicated facilities for light aviation at the airport in the long term, we must always put the safety of our customers and those living and working around the airport before all other considerations. We will continue to support the flying clubs affected by this decision, and will assist in their relocation should they choose to move to an alternative site, such as nearby aerodromes Redhill and Damyns Hall Farm. We thank the flying clubs for their understanding in this matter.”

Robert Walters, Business Development Director, London Biggin Hill Airport, says: “While our decision must be balanced against the loss of some leisure-related flying activity at the airport, we believe that this necessary step to improve the safety of our skies will be counterbalanced by our continuing dedication to our local community.

“The investment in business aviation maintenance at the airport, along with the recently announced London Aerospace Technology College, will create many high-value employment opportunities for residents and students in the borough over the coming years, and the increase in business aviation at the airport has already produced 250 new jobs over the past 12 months. Local residents living close to the airport can also expect to benefit from a significant reduction in light aircraft noise over the coming months.”

The Flying Reporter asked Will Curtis, Managing director the following questions.

Q: Please can you say why the airport is not able to accommodate the training traffic alongside bizjets, when other airports around the world are able to?

Q: Is this a case of not properly resourcing ATC at the airport, to enable proper control of the airport environment in the ATZ?

Modern TCAS systems do not allow the close interaction of business jets and light aircraft. Our airport Safety Management System has highlighted an issue with interactions between light aircraft and business jets. We have tried various measures to mitigate this issue, but in the end we have reluctantly concluded that only a significant reduction in light aircraft movements will serve to properly address this issue. This is a problem shared with other airport that mix light aircraft with transport category aircraft and whilst some might manage due to their relatively low volumes, we have decided that this is a necessary step.

Q: Please can you say how this fits into the picture of Biggin Hill being a socially responsible business, given the state of the UK’s light general aviation sector?

We have carefully considered our decision. It would be socially irresponsible to ignore any safety issue and there are plenty of more suitable aerodromes that can be used for flight training.

Q: Is this a short-sighted decision, based on profit only, that pays no regard for the international shortage of pilots?

This is a natural evolution of the London runway capacity crunch. As business aviation is progressively displaced from major London airports, it is coming to airports such as Biggin Hill and Farnborough, Hants (which has no light aviation at all). This trend is set to continue over the next decade. It was always going to affect light aviation and we have been discussing this with flying schools at Biggin Hill for the past 3 years , so it should come as no real surprise.

For now there is no change to The Flying Reporter’s operations there.  

Updated 26/07/18

EFG has announced on 26 July 2018 that it has secured a four year lease at the airport, and flying training will continue.

Jon Hunt is a private pilot based at Biggin Hill Airport, who trained for his PPL there.