UK infrastructure and support services company Stobart Group is preparing to open its first fixed base operation and has set its sights on becoming a leading provider of business aircraft and passenger handling services in Europe through a new venture called Stobart Jet Centre.
The company will inaugurate the £1.5 million ($2 million) FBO in December at London Southend airport, which was acquired by Stobart in 2008.
The FBO will replace an old passenger terminal on the site – situated around 40 miles (65km) to the east of the UK capital – which has been providing basic services for business aircraft users.
Steve Grimes, managing director of Stobart Jet Centre, describes the company’s involvement in business aviation to date as "low key".
"That’s about to change," he says. "There is so much potential to grow this business both at Southend airport and elsewhere in the UK and Europe."
Southend currently handles around 1,000 business aircraft movements a year – around 1% of the business aircraft traffic for London-area airports, against figures of 31,000 for Luton and 25,000 for Farnborough.
Grimes is not fazed by the competition, however. He says demand for business aviation access to London will continue to grow, but capacity is becoming more limited at many of these sites, either through lack of ramp space, air traffic control congestion, or limited opening hours.
RAF Northolt, London's fourth-largest airport for business aircraft traffic, with 12,000 movements recorded in 2016, will close for several months next year for runway renovations, creating a requirement for additional capacity, says Grimes.
"Since acquiring Southend, Stobart has spent a lot of money improving the infrastructure – extending the runway, revamping the control tower and adding extra ramp space. We hope the airport will become as popular with business aircraft users as it is with airline passengers," adds Grimes.
Stobart Jet Centre plans to double its aircraft movements in 2018 and hit 10,000 by 2022, says Grimes. Once the business has taken off, the company will begin exploring other locations for its FBOs. Major UK cities such as Birmingham and Manchester are a possibility, as well as popular European destinations, such as Nice, says Grimes.