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CAO’s Farnborough designator ‘FAB’ coincidentally describes the transformation that TAG Aviation has made to Britain’s ex-military ‘cradle of aviation’. In a very short time- Farnborough Airport as it is now known- has become a commercially qualified airport for the exclusive use of business jets; and the site hasn’t just been refurbished- but re-built from the ground up!

Mike Vines   |   1st November 2005
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Farnborough has risen from the ashes.

CAO’s Farnborough designator ‘FAB’ coincidentally describes the transformation that TAG Aviation has made to Britain’s ex-military ‘cradle of aviation’. In a very short time- Farnborough Airport as it is now known- has become a commercially qualified airport for the exclusive use of business jets; and the site hasn’t just been refurbished- but re-built from the ground up! The airport’s new buildings are some of the most architecturally exciting structures to be seen at any airport and reflect the affluence and expectations of its demanding clientele.

Farnborough’s ancestral roots reach back to Samuel Franklin Cody’s man-lifting kite demonstrations on Farnborough Common in 1894. The site witnessed the first recognized heavier-than-air powered flight by him in 1908. But before this- in 1905- the airfield had become the Balloon Factory and the Balloon Section Royal Engineers’ aerodrome. The place evolved into the world renowned Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) Farnborough- and became a world center of excellence in aviation research and development in war and peace. It also became famous for its role in aero-medicine and crash investigation- but is probably best known for its biennial SBAC Farnborough Air Show- the first of which took place there in 1948.

It was not until 1989 that business aircraft were allowed to use this Ministry of Defence ‘secret’ test and evaluation airfield. Who would have guessed that ten years later TAG Aviation would be bidding for a 99 year lease on the place and planning to make it the most spectacular business aviation airfield in Europe. TAG Farnborough Airport Ltd. officially took title for the Farnborough site from the MoD in 2003 and sub leases the Farnborough Air Show site (south side of runway) to the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC).

Setting and achieving goals

Five years on- TAG’s original year-2000 mission statement makes interesting reading: ‘TAG plans to carry out substantial investments to install the latest- high quality safety equipment- to the most modern standards. A further amount will be invested in new buildings with the creation of a new hightech terminal area- control tower- hangars and improved road access’.

Well TAG has achieved all of these goals- and easily spent over $200 million- in the process. The sight of TAG Aviation’s 21st century- steel clad- ‘flying wing’ VIP passenger terminal/operations building- is truly awesome. The three-storey 54-000 sq ft building opens for business mid to late December.

'It is surprisingly on time and budget-' quipped Len Rayment- TAG Farnborough’s director of FBO and Business Development. 'The building is equipped to VIP standard and upwards. There will be three or four private lounge areas- a secure lounge- a small bistro- a presentation room for up to 40 people with audiovisual facilities- and smaller private meeting rooms. Flight crews will have a briefing room- rest rooms- lounge- and executive quality shower rooms.'

According to Rayment- two major corporate aviation companies have booked office space in the spectacular new terminal- where 70% of the available office space has now been let. TAG’s charter arm will be moving in as early as possible he says- as the business is expanding rapidly.

'We have increased passenger handling staff by 50% in the last quarter of 2005 to handle this extra work- and are ready for the move into the new terminal. Half of our increase comes from market share and the other from overall industry growth. We are now seeing four to five new US aircraft per week here.'

Initial worries

Farnborough Airport has become a reality- but it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the deep-pocketed company. TAG Aviation Group’s CEO- Roger McMullin- explained a few years ago- that there were times when he was very worried about the amount of money and time it was taking to get the airport’s infrastructure up to the latest demanding environmental standards.

Some of the early slow progress wasn’t just environmental legislation regarding the latest drainage systems- but very practical problems associated with an ex-military site. Rayment explained that builders found plenty of buried ordnance from Farnborough’s military tenure- and of course had to stop work each time until it was made safe.

When the builders were demolishing the old control tower (near the end of runway 06)- there were virtually no existing electrical diagrams to explain the purpose of much of the underground cabling- which again slowed progress. These are just a few examples of the enormity of the project- which doubtless increased costs- and caused a great deal of frustration within TAG’s Board.

The failure of Farnborough-based business jet charter company ChauffAir didn’t help TAG much either during this early period- as ChauffAir was responsible for around 1-500 aircraft movements per year.

Mountain of improvements

Amongst the mountain of improvements undertaken has been the re-profiled and re-surfaced runway 06/24; all the airport ground lighting and signage has been replaced- and ILS installed on both ends of the runway. There is now 6-600 ft available for take-off and 5-900 ft for the landing run. Landing thresholds were moved toward the center of the airfield to make life less noisy for Farnborough’s neighbors- and keep it Chapter III noise compliant. Pilots are required to fly a 3.5 degree approach to enhance noise reduction. The first of Farnborough’s new buildings to appear was the elegant control tower- closely followed by the new ‘wave’ 120-000 square feet triple hangar. Board approval is currently being sought to add another 120-000 square feet of matching hangar bays to the west of the current site. This would make sense- as- according to Rayment- existing new hangarage opened just over a year ago is already close to capacity.

To fulfil TAG’s dream of making Farnborough a complete one-stop business aviation airport- its engineering facility TAG Farnborough Engineering (TFE) has seen substantial investment and has grown consistently since its acquisition around three years ago. With 5-500 square meters of clear floor space- full height access via hangar doors onto hard standing tarmac aprons at both ends- and 1-500 square meters of clean workshop facilities- staff have increased to 30 including 12 licensed engineers.

It has service centre status for Falcon products- and agreements have been reached with TAG Geneva on the exchange of information- tooling- and spares- and a new IT program to support Farnborough on a Falcon work program.

'TAG is committed to ongoing employee-training to EASA Part-66 and manufacturer’s type training'- said TFE MD Les Batty. 'Safety and quality control is an essential part of this training.'

TFE has approvals for Hawker- Dassault- and Bombardier aircraft. Its national approvals include EASA 145- FAA No FNV-Y506X- Bermuda- Cayman- Aruba- Nigerian and Russian.

A professional pilot training center also needed to be based on the airport- and that has now come to fruition with the arrival of FlightSafety International (FSI)- this year. It is FSI’s largest civil pilot training school outside the US.

FSI’s huge 95-000 square foot building opened its doors to its first students on August 8 this year. It will eventually hold 14 full motion simulators in three halls for business jet- regional airline and helicopter crews. The cost of FSI’s investment at Farnborough is estimated at between $200-250 million- and in the first full year of operations (2006)- the company expects to train around 3-800 students. FSI also holds the option to double the size of the building when it is required.

The FSI Citation Bravo simulator is already 75% booked through December this year. A Gulfstream IV equipped with EVS- and a King Air B200 are ready and Regional turboprops are represented with a Beech 1900D and a Saab 340 simulator.

FSI’s Cessna CJ2/CJ1 simulator is due to be operational later this year- while its Cessna Mustang simulator should be ready for students by the end of 2007. Mustang training on FSI Level D full flight simulators- with electric motion- and avionics training devices- will only be available at Cessna’s Wichita home- and at Farnborough.

A Hawker 800XP simulator with Honeywell flight deck- and a ProLine 21 configured Hawker 800XP are scheduled to come on-line next year. 2006 will also see a Hawker (ProLine configured) 400XP and a Citation Excel up and running. Decisions on other simulators have yet to be decided- but two of them could be for helicopters according to FSI.

The next major building project will be TAG’s planned 180-room hotel which will be aimed primarily as lodging for FSI’s students and visiting aircrew- but will also be available for public bookings

'The hotel project board has now selected an architect and operator-' revealed Rayment- 'but I cannot release further details yet; completion though is expected to be within 18 months to two years.'

'Farnborough’s aircraft movements will reach 19-000 per year by the end of 2005- (the limit is 28-000 movements currently and governed by the local authorities) and we hope to reach 28-000 before 2010-' he continued. 'We are already 12% up on last year’s movements- and we have exceeded 100 movements per day for around 10-12 days this year so far. We even had 100+ movements for four days running over one week recently.'

Around 40 business jets are currently based at Farnborough and they range from Premier I up to Global Express size. To sum up- one could say- that Farnborough Airport has emerged from its historic ashes- and could well be on the way to becoming a corporate aviation tourist attraction for its own space-age architecture.

More information from www.tagaviation.com


Aircraft Operations- Management and Charter:

TAG Aviation (UK) Ltd




Executive Jet Charter

GAMA Aviation

High Speed Flight

International Jet Club

London Executive Aviation

Manhattan Jet Charter

Charter Brokers:

Flight Management (Charter) Ltd


Aircraft Management:


Thunder Air

Aircraft Engineering and Support:

Corporate Rotable & Supply

Farnborough Aircraft Interiors

GAMA Support Services

Harrods Aviation:

TAG Farnborough Engineering

Aviation Medical Services:


Flight Training:

FlightSafety International

Aircraft Sales:

Bombardier Skyjet International

Cessna Aircraft:

Gulfstream International

Swift Aviation

Other Related Aviation Companies:

Airops Ltd (Aviation Computer software)

Aviateq (Aviation consultants)

British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA)

TGC Aviation (Flight planning and technical services support)

Universal Weather

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