Kate Sarsfield/LONDON

Ad hoc business and airline charter operators at London Stansted Airport have formed a pressure group to fight for their long-term security at the airport, which is the UK's fourth largest.

The group of 16, dubbed the Stansted Ad Hoc Business Operators Association (SABOA), is concerned that once scheduled airline traffic increases, BAA-owned Stansted could emulate its larger and busier stablemate London Heathrow by reducing slot availability and eroding business aviation operations.

Metro Business Aviation chief executive Stephen Grimes says: "Now that Stansted's slot allocation system is fully co-ordinated, we are concerned that we will go the same way as Heathrow. However, SABOA's intention is not for confrontation, but for consultation. We want to sit down with Stansted Airport and agree on the best way forward."

Metro, the UK's largest fixed-base operator, with sites at Stansted, Heathrow and London Luton airports, is a founding member of SABOA and its Heathrow equivalent - the Heathrow Executive Jet Operators Association (HEJOA). Grimes says: "There is no problem getting in and out of Stansted now. We just want to preserve a future for ad hoc operators in the next 10-20 years."

In July, HEJOA lost a legal battle against UK Government-appointed slot co-ordinator Airports Co-ordination (ACL). It claimed that ACL had introduced an unfair and damaging slot allocation procedure at Europe's busiest hub, intended to drive out business aviation. "Our appeal against this decision was heard on 14 April and we are awaiting the judges' final ruling," says Grimes.

HEJOA claims that UK airline-owned ACL's tactical slot system contravenes European Union regulations by unfairly restricting access to business aircraft. "The opportunity slot system was not perfect, but it worked well. We were given the chance to use the natural gaps, but now there is no mechanism to do this as the slots are not reviewed after 06.30. The common sense approach has gone," says Grimes.

HEJOA also believes that this issue has Europe-wide implications, as the knock-on effect of airport co-ordination could be felt by business aircraft operators at major airports across the continent. "We would like the judges to refer this to the European Court of Justice. What happens at Heathrow today could affect other European airports in the future," says Grimes.

Source: Flight International