International aircraft broker and charter operator Air Partner is planning to build a £7 million ($14 million) business aviation facility at London Biggin Hill airport in an attempt to boost its image and turn the underused facility, situated around 23km (14 miles) from the UK capital, into a leading European business aviation airport. The move comes as the UK's only dedicated business aviation airport, London Farnborough, is being forced to turn away traffic at weekends while it awaits a decision from the government to boost its annual 28,000 movement ceiling.

The UK is one of the largest markets for business aviation in Europe "and the demand for business aircraft here has never been as strong", says Air Partner chief executive David Savile. He attributes much of the growth in demand to the number of high net worth individuals who are switching from the airlines to business jets in greater numbers.

Biggin Hill is owned by UK airport operator Regional Airports and is famous for its role as a Royal Air Force base in the Second World War. "It has become a forgotten airport over the years," Savile says, "but we want to turn it into a 21 century facility so it becomes the obvious choice for travellers". The facility accommodates 14,000 movements a year - 11% of its annual 125,000 movement capacity - and this number grew by 30% last year.

Jet Aviation, which has a fixed-base operation, maintenance and refurbishment facility at Biggin Hill, concurs with Savile. "We have seen our business grow year on year since we opened in 2002, but the last two years have been particularly strong," says deputy general manager Chris Webb.

Air Partner made its mark at Biggin Hill 16 months ago following its acquisition of business jet operator Gold Air. The company plans to break ground in the second quarter on the 16,300m2 (175,000ft2) facility which will house its charter, management and maintenance business as well as an airport lounge, offices and hangarage for 20 business jets. Completion is set for the second half of 2009.

Source: Flight International