Britain’s 10th busiest airport by flight numbers

Mark Ryan, Glos Airport

Mark Ryan, Glos Airport - Credit: NG

In September last year, Gloucestershire Airport at Staverton, was voted the Best General Aviation Airport 2013 by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

The airport, which handles around 75,000 flights a year, beat competitors such as Farnborough and Biggin Hill.

Airport Director Mark Ryan said: “The award validates the hard work and effort that all our staff have put in to make us the busiest and now, officially the best General Aviation Airport in the UK.

“The completion of our Runway Safety Project earlier this year has raised our profile and has clearly been noticed by the industry.”

He is referring to a £4 million project, financed by the airport itself, to lengthen the runway that included the removal of two houses and culverting a brook.

Mark, previously in the RAF, arrived at the airport 10 years ago, first as facilities and safety manager.

“I could see the airport’s potential,” he said. “We are equidistant from Bristol and Birmingham and offer general and business aviation facilities. We are focused on building that side of the business up.”

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However, unlike Cotswold and London Oxford Airport, which are privately owned, Gloucestershire Airport is owned by Gloucester City and Cheltenham Borough councils but sits on Tewkesbury Borough Council land, making matters a little more complicated when it comes to discussions on its future. What is true, however, is that everyone acknowledges that the airport brings millions of pounds into the local economy and should remain in operation.

“We are the busiest general aviation airport in the UK,” explains Mark. “We have 75,000 movements a year and, at number 11, we are just outside the UK’s Top Ten airports. Our service levels and facilities are second to none and this is what pilots want to see. We also have a fantastic team and our Air Traffic Control is exceptional.”

Private business jet travel is increasing and Mark wants more at Gloucestershire Airport. “There is a strong demand for business jet travel. Private business jet travel is no longer just for the chief executives, it’s popular with many these days and more people are also acquiring a private pilots license. If I wanted to learn flying up to a commercial license, I can do it here. A private pilot’s license costs anything from £5,000 to £8,000 and you can get a microlight license for around £4,000. It’s accessible.”

However, as with Cotswold and London Oxford Airports, it’s the rents from commercial properties on the airport that provide its largest income stream. Other income comes from landing fees, handling services including hangar parking, navigation charges and jet parking. In fact, it’s cheaper to park your jet at the airport than to park your car in Cheltenham. Overnight parking here for a small aircraft is £12.60 – and the first four hours are free.

Mark is seeing an increase in airport movements. “Our Instrument Landing System was switched on in 2013 with the approval of the CAA and we have seen a 34% growth in business aviation since last year. Our goal is to increase market share and we are certainly a strategic asset for Gloucestershire. We also have a number of very high profile customers who use us on a regular basis. It’s a small industry and crews are talking about the service levels we offer.

“At the moment we have a small market share but we need to fly the flag as I think there is more demand and we are located in an absolutely beautiful part of the country.”

Staverton history

During World War Two, Staverton served as an RAF training base and during the 1940s, flying pioneer Sir Alan Cobham helped develop in-flight refuelling there.

In the post war years, Staverton was a popular club and business airfield. For many years Smiths industries based its flying test bed aircraft at the airport - a Vickers Varsity initially, then later a Hawker Siddeley 748. In 1993, Staverton was renamed Gloucestershire Airport to reflect its increasing prominence as the business aviation centre for the county. Gloucestershire Airport now serves a catchment area of 1.5 million people and 3500 businesses from the Midlands to north Bristol.