Flight training schools at London Biggin Hill Airport (LBH) have been given six months to cease operations and move out. What started as a letter to tenants advising of a rise in landing fees for light aircraft operating out of London Biggin Hill Airport (LBH), which was being introduced in a bid to reduce the amount of circuit traffic, has concluded with a ban on all flight training activity within the next six months.
In an open letter sent to airfield tenants and aircraft operators last month, LBH managing director Will Curtis said that they have had to look at ways of reducing light aircraft circuit traffic in order to accommodate a 21% rise in business jet activity over the last two years. In November 2015, LBH was granted an extension to its operating hours and Mr Curtis has said that the resulting upsurge in business jet activity has led to “…some operational problems, not least because ATC is having trouble mixing high volumes of light aviation, especially ab-initio training, with business aviation.”
According to Mr Curtis, Biggin Hill is no longer suitable for intensive circuit flying in training aircraft due to speed differentials between these aircraft types and business jets, which, coupled with wake turbulence considerations, is leading to ATC having trouble combining both activities.
“Frequent ‘traffic alerts’ experienced by business jet pilots, triggered by potential conflicting light aircraft traffic entering their ‘TCAS bubble’, coupled with the speed differential and the wake turbulence considerations that come with business jet types, mean that Biggin Hill is no longer an aerodrome suitable for both a growing number of business jets and a high volume of light aviation activity. We must therefore limit circuit flying and slower light aircraft,” Mr Curtis said.
The letter advised that the previous landing fee of £23.00 for aircraft weighing up to 800kg, which covers most PPL training aircraft, is being discontinued from April 2018 and replaced with a 0 to 1,700kg category with a fee of £27.70.
At the time of the letter, Biggin’s flight training schools had already started using alternative sites, such as Redhill Aerodrome, for circuit training, but it appears that LBH’s management considered this measure insufficient and in fact had already decided to end to all flight training activity at the airfield and that the letter was a precursor to the announcement for schools to quit the airfield.
EFG Flying School, the longest continually active flight training school at LBH, were given their marching orders on 10 March. In a letter to his customers, EFG MD Anoop Singh Bamrah said:
“It has come as a shock to us, and all other flying schools at Biggin Hill, that we have all been given six months’ notice to cease flight training at this airport. We are already in discussions with various airport operators in relation to relocating and continuing all business activities with the least disruption to all courses. Rest assured you will still be able to continue to fly at Biggin Hill over the coming months during the transition period.
To our students who have purchased packages, they will be honoured and simply be transferred over to our new home – the terms and continuity will not be affected. Since 1947 EFG has been part of the fabric of South East England & London flying. Leading the way in Private Pilot Licences, and over the last decade Commercial ratings. Our Head of Training Wing Commander Ray Watson has kept the props turning and students learning at Biggin for nearly six decades. On January 3rd 1959 Rex Nicholls flew the first EFG aircraft into Biggin Hill. Since then we have trained thousands of pilots and witnessed careers blossom for both our students, pilots and our own instructors.
Our pilots have gone on to fly for legacy airlines, short and long-haul airlines, corporate jets, purchase their own planes, and of course many still fly with us. We take great pride in each and every one of our students and members and will continue to do so.
If you have any concerns please do not hesitate to contact us, but we can assure you that your interests are at our hearts and protected.
In the meantime, thank you for your loyal support.”
As the news broke of LBH’s decision to end flight training, Grant Shapps MP, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for General Aviation, told reporters: “Flybe and easyJet operate alongside a GA flying school at Southend. Works for them and can work for Biggin Hill. We will be seeking an urgent meeting with their management.”