- 21 Dec 2022
- Gerrard Cowan
- Aircraft Ownership
Is the right decision always to base your aircraft at the nearest airport? What if that airport is full? David Wyndham shares some of the key factors to consider when selecting the best airport for your jet...Back to Articles
For many operators, the choice of where to base the aircraft requires no consideration other than distance from home or work. But if your home or work is in, or close to, a major metropolitan area you may need to consider other factors.
For example, your preferred home airport could be full, and is therefore unable to accommodate your aircraft. Or maybe there are two potential airports located a similar distance away from you. Which is best?
Following are some key thoughts to factor into the decision-making process, enabling you to select the best option available.
Airports and Approaches
First, do the airports being considered have the runway lengths to guarantee safe operations? If your aircraft stipulates that the typical runway needs to be 5,000 feet long, that should be considered the minimum. Six thousand feet would be preferable.
Moreover, what level of precision approaches are available? If you have an aircraft and crew capable of flying Category IIIB approaches to a 50-foot decision height, does it matter if the home airport only has a Category I approach with a 200-foot decision height? How often will this impact your ability to fly in to, or out of that airport?
One operator I know of moved further away from their closest airport because the airport frequently experienced fog and poor visibility, which restricted operations.
What are the hangar requirements of your aircraft beyond just the physical space needed to accommodate it? Is renting and sharing space with other aircraft acceptable?
For example, one operator’s company had a personal security program in place for its CEO. That person not only had to fly on the private aircraft, but the aircraft had to be stored in a physically secure hangar, with guards, cameras, restricted entry, alarms, and more. That operator found an FBO at the desired location which was able to provide the required security, for them and several other high-profile clients.
Alternatively, some operations seek to build their own hangar. Other than the costs, there may not be land available to buy at the preferred location. And while many municipal airports are happy to lease you the land, at some point the city will take ownership of both the land and hangar. Obviously, building your own hangar should be a long-term decision, made with tax and legal input.
What maintenance services are available at the favored airport? Are they from a preferred vendor (perhaps even a factory authorized service center)? If you have in-house maintenance within your flight department, this may not be as significant as it would otherwise be.
But don’t stop with maintenance. Consider the other ground support services, such as ground support equipment, de-icing, and catering. If you do a lot of international travel, are there customs facilities on site? If so, what are their hours of availability?
You will need to weigh up how often these special services are needed, and how close alternative airports offering those services are as a part of the airport selection process.
Fuel and Fuel Card Programs
If you are evaluating operating your own fuel farm, make sure you understand the total costs to put the fuel in the aircraft, not just the delivered cost of the fuel. If you do not plan to operate your own fuel farm, you will be buying your fuel from the local FBO.
Is the FBO a part of your current fuel discount program? Will it offer discounts for bulk fuel purchases? Are there competing FBOs on the field, enabling you to get even better fuel prices? Given that a large percentage of your operating cost is directly attributable to fuel, it’s important to ensure you base the jet at an airport enabling cost efficiencies in this area.
Look at the Total Cost
Often the business airport closest to the center of the city will have higher fees and rents than those located further away.
While it may be an option to shuttle the aircraft into the city airport from a lower-cost suburban airfield to pick-up passengers, you will need to factor the cost of each round-trip. Though the shuttle flight time may be less than an hour, remember that this trip will remain at low altitude and low airspeeds, consuming much more fuel. And each landing puts wear and tear on the brakes and tires.
Consider, too, the crew duty time. The short hop between airports will require the crew to arrive earlier for the pickup. If the aircraft is to fly on a long trip, there will be time needed to fuel, topping off the tanks, too. Does the crew have the duty time needed for such a trip?
If you are fortunate enough to have a choice between two airports, you should calculate an annual operating budget for the aircraft at each location. Balance that cost with the value of services and conveniences at each location.
Evaluate your operating requirements for trip lengths, duty length, customs, catering, and more, to arrive at the cost-benefit for each option. Make sure you have the information needed to make a well-informed decision.
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