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Should fractional aeroplane ownership and regional aerodromes be a part of a sustainable transport future?

September 12, 2013

The focus for the “Air Traffic to 2050” blog series is all about Commercial Air Transport (CAT) and the airports they use, some of which are becoming pretty near full like Heathrow and some of which are barely used like Leipzig. Leisure and business are both important in driving traffic.

The Low Cost airlines have opened up a number of regional airports most driven by leisure, but some driven by mixed economy usage and lack of affordable capacity at busy hubs. This creates some odd anomalies e.g. fly to Frankfurt Hahn by lo-co and it’s about 120Km to Frankfurt!

The interesting bit is the business and private aviation part of General Aviation (GA) which is growing steadily as the hassle of CAT increases. People are waking up to the fact that GA can go closer to more places than CAT with zero hassle. This opens up the possibility of significant economic drivers particularly for Hi-tech European firms which lease or join fractional ownership for aeroplanes for their own transport. This is not new. A policy focus to make lease and fractional ownership of GA aircraft attractive could have a significant impact in the regions. Is this a much better way to spend £80bn than HS2?

Aerodromes to support this in the UK alone could include:  Farnborough, Biggin Hill, Oxford, Cambridge, Gloucestershire, Coventry, Exeter, Norwich, Durham  and Newcastle from where you can get to regional airports in e.g.  Poland, the Czech Republic and anywhere in a similar radius in under 2 hours. Even in my light aircraft I can get to Prague in just over 4 hours!  Other airports on the South Coast with good capacity and facilities include Southend (being developed by Stobarts who also own Carlisle) Manston and Lydd.

As an aside there is much unused or underused ex military infrastructure both here and in Europe. One example: RAF Alconbury in Oxfordshire is largely intact, close to the M40 and the line to Paddington.  Greenham Common has of course been destroyed but could otherwise have been used for Heathrow over-spill for tuppence.

There is a risk of being too commercial aviation focused; thinking about an alternate future might help people think broader.

(written by John Milner)

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