September 12, 2011 2:31 pm

Private Aviation: A decade on and hassle remains

It is now 10 years since the unprecedented terrorist attacks on the US mainland using aircraft as weapons, and much has still not returned to the “normality” of pre-9/11.

The world in general might have become less safe, but air travel has gone the other way – as the lack of successful terror attacks in the past decade shows.

The price is security stepped up to uncomfortably levels at big airports. And, even then, better and more focused intelligence has arguably played a bigger role in preventing terror attacks than screening of bags.

Both Israel and India have had stringent checks in place for longer than 10 years. But some of Israel’s more effective techniques, such as passenger profiling, have only recently started being used more widely.

Private aviation was hammered by security fears in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but in the longer term it has gained from its passengers being able to avoid the lengthy security queues at large airports.

However, India and China are both example of places where airport infrastructure and regulations mean private aviation travellers often have to go through the same security screening as airline passengers.

The UK authorities, especially in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics, are also pushing for passengers on private jets to be screened in the same way as airline travellers. That runs the risk of raising the hassle factor significantly – for no real gain.

London capacity

The record number of passengers using London’s Heathrow airport in August is one sign of the continued pressure on runway capacity in the UK’s south-east, in spite of a fall in the numbers using another London-serving airport, Stansted.

But relief is slipping in under the radar from airports that are mainly geared to private and limited charter flights.

Last month’s 6.6m airline passengers using Heathrow, up 0.7 per cent on the same month last year, is a record for the summer month. But Stansted saw a fall of 5 per cent in passenger traffic from August last year as low-cost airlines, which make up a large part of the Essex airport’s usage, trimmed capacity.

The early decision by the current UK government to scrap plans for a third Heathrow runway continues to add pressure. The Department for Transport says that the main London airports will have reached the limits of their capacity within two decades, and more traffic will have to use the UK’s regional airports.

London’s administration has been vocal in urging greater airport capacity to avoid damaging the city’s ability to compete with continental European cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Madrid, which have good and expanding international air links. A number of solutions have been put forward, such as an all-new airport in the Thames estuary that would replace Heathrow.

But at the same time existing smaller airports within easy reach of London have upped their game. Farnborough in Hampshire, the leading business aviation airport, had the cap on its number of movements lifted this year. Oxford, recently rebranded London Oxford Airport, has expanded its maintenance and other facilities. Cambridge Airport says it has quicker rail links to London than its main university town rival. Southend has a brand new railway station. The list goes on, taking in others including Manston and Biggin Hill in Kent.

The expansion of these airports is not a complete answer to the capacity constraints on the main London hubs. But it might help to avoid some of the more off-the-wall solutions that have been touted. However rapid the rail links between the UK Midlands and the capital, a rebranding that creates “London Birmingham Airport” is perhaps going too far.

Rugby scrum

Private aviation operators are reporting a surge in demand for flights to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup, which runs to October 23. This follows the demand for similar sporting events in recent years such as the Football World Cup in South Africa last year.

One operator, ExecuJet Australasia, based in Sydney, is reporting activity up 35 per cent on normal charter demand. According to Roxanne Simpson, charter sales manager: “One client booked a Falcon 900C for the entire month of October to ensure he and his guests got to every semi-final and final game.”

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