Brandon O’Reilly is chief executive of TAG Farnborough Airport in Hampshire. He talks to Tom Otley about infrastructure investments at the airport, and the different ways business travellers use private aviation
You’ve recently completed new facilities for passengers and crew at Farnborough. Why were these necessary?
Since the airport was purchased in the early 2000s, TAG Farnborough has invested over £200 million to change it from what was a military research and development facility into a private airfield for business aviation. That investment has been made in everything from the runway, control tower, hangers, ramp parking and terminal buildings through to other ground infrastructure, office facilities and the hotel.
Every piece was made with the specific aim of serving the business aviation customer – whether that’s the passenger, the pilot, the aircraft operator or the employees that need to work at the airport.
So who are your business travel customers?
There are many different types. There are the executives who want to go out to their aircraft as quickly as and be airborne as soon as possible – and that’s what the airport has been designed for, since it’s a business aviation-only airport. Unlike our competitors, you are not competing with traffic from commercial airlines, or flying schools.
Then there are other customers. For instance, the airplane that belongs to a corporation where the individual traveller might be waiting for colleagues from the company before departure, and the aircraft might be leaving at a pre-determined time. For those customers, they want a calm environment where they can work.
Then there are the charter aircraft. Four or five people might charter an aircraft to go to Geneva for the day. Those people are probably going to want to wait until they’re all ready and then go out to the aircraft. For that reason we have recently spent another million pounds on improving the environment in which they are waiting. The waiting lounge – and transfer to aircraft – needs to be a calm and efficient environment.
Finally you’ve got a trend for larger aircraft with volumes of up to 40 or 50 passengers – sporting teams, musical groups, groups of people going to automotive launches. Since those aircraft have got larger number of seats we want to be able to cater for them as well, and we have designed a lounge and associated facilities to serve those customers.
It’s a myriad of customers we want to serve – and it’s about having access to the facilities you want, and not having to stand in line waiting, and able to get on your way as quickly as possible. That’s what we’re facilitating.
Many of your customers must be travelling to and from London, but you are further away than Heathrow.
We are close to good transport links. The M3 motorway is very close by and is being redeveloped into a smart motorway. We have helicopter links and higher-speed rail links every half-hour into Waterloo. So location-wise, for west London and into Mayfair it’s an excellent location. The airport is also within the M3/M4 corridor, which is the high-tech industrial corridor. In fact the M3 Local Enterprise Partnership has noted Farnbrough from a business aviation point of view as an important asset to the economy of Hampshire.
I should also say that if you fly to Heathrow, you’re coached or transferred to a terminal building, you have immigration and a wait for your bags – all of which might add 45 minutes or an hour. Here at Farnborough, immigration comes to your aircraft and will serve you on the aircraft, or the vehicle at the bottom of the steps – you can be on your way within minutes from pulling onto stand.
Is the investment you’ve made recouped from charging higher prices than some other airports?
The key aspect is offering value, and we believe value is speed, efficiency, privacy, discretion and bespoke service. If you’re an airline customer, even in First Class, that airline is trying to deliver an excellent service, but it’s trying to do it repetitively at the very best price to itself. We are the opposite. It doesn’t matter what your demand is, we want to be able to say yes.
Every customer who arrives in their limousine has bespoke demands, and if we can meet those demands, then that’s value, and if people are prepared to pay for it, it’s good value. We don’t compare ourself to other airports because this is a unique proposition. But at the same time we don’t want to be vastly expensive, because that would be inappropriate. Having surveyed the facilities around London we offer a competitive product for the value we offer – we don’t have people ringing us up and saying we are too expensive. I don’t get those calls.