Record breaking January and new investment drives airport

Cotswold Airport at Kemble

Cotswold Airport at Kemble - Credit: Archant

Suzannah Harvey is not your usual airport boss. Moving into the CEO role at Cotswold Airport at Kemble near Cirencester in June 2012, she is a former boss of a successful model agency, after having modeled herself since she was young.

Suzannah Harvey

Suzannah Harvey - Credit: NG

Cotswolds Airport has also reinvented itself. From being RAF Kemble, home to the Red Arrows until 1983, it was bought by businessman Ronan Harvey in 2001 and is now a popular airfield for private and business jets, home to 40 businesses including those offering the storage and recycling of redundant airlines, and a flying school. It is also used regularly by TV and promotions companies.

Suzannah Harvey

Suzannah Harvey - Credit: NG

The airport had a record-breaking January with 294 air movements (with so many private grass airstrips waterlogged due to flooding, Cotswold Airport provided a useful alternative). It is also investing around £500,000 in a global navigational satellite system which will enable it to operate in adverse weather conditions, boosting its general aviation and business jet traffic. Like Gloucestershire and London Oxford Airports, Cotswold also has a customs agreement, which means it can act on behalf of the UK border agency.

Ronan, Suzannah’s father, bought the airport off the MOD to develop an aviation centre and she had been involved on the periphery since around 2003, helping with events such as airshows, arranging the VIP corporate entertainment because it tied in with her modeling agency. Ronan, who now lives abroad, still returns every year, usually around the time of the popular airshows. However, cost and the uncertain British weather has now halted these.

Suzannah explains: “It was with regret that we called a halt to them, it’s such a drain on manpower resources and we don’t get much change out of £300,000 to put the shows on. We’ve never had a complete washout yet but it’s probably only a matter of time, and with the biggest airshow in the world up the road [Fairford] we just can’t compete.”

The CEO role is pretty full on for a women with two-year-old twin boys, so why do it?

“I loved running Universal Models, and it was pretty successful with over 1,000 people on my books doing everything from promotional work to high end TV campaigns,” explains Suzannah. “The plan was originally to do three days a week here and two days running the agency, but I was spreading myself very thin, so I decided to focus on this place.”

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Cotswold Airport employs around 25 people, including Suzannah’s right-hand man Nick Howard, Operations Director.

Suzannah admits that at times it’s been a tough ride, including the death of Fire Chief Steve Mills in 2012 in a tragic accident, and the discovery of six kilos of cocaine by engineers dismantling a jumbo jet the previous year. “The police sent a couple of PCs in a panda car,” she said. “When the PCs decided they needed back up, it was like Miami Vice.”

The best thing about Cotswold Airport is that there is never a dull day. “There will be anything from straight line Formula 1 testing to promotional launches (we did the launch of the Range Rover sport here), as well as an increasingly busy airport.” And of course the airport is used regularly by a number of Royals and VIPs commuting in and out of the county.

In the flying fraternity, she says, there is never a dull moment and she’s still planning to learn to fly herself.

“I have flown on and off on gliders since I was eight and had penciled in to do my Private Pilots License but fell pregnant at the time I wanted to start. I will do it at some stage but to be honest I’ve taken flying for granted as there is always someone willing to build up flying hours who is prepared to take me up with them.”


This article is from the May 2014 issue of Business & Professional Life