The London area is an easy GA operating environment and a pleasurable experience for crews as all airports have excellent handling facilities and services. When considering airport options be mindful of what part of London you’re heading to along with flexibility implications of airports with restricted operating hours and peak periods of commercial activity.
The following is an overview of what you need to know:
1. Airport options
The London area has eight airports available to general aviation (GA), all with high quality fixed-base operators (FBOs), clearance facilities and VIP handling services. However, there’s no perfect London Area airport, as the best airport for your particular mission will depend upon your destination in the metropolitan area, aircraft operating requirements and operational flexibility in terms of airport curfews and other limitations.
There are many considerations beyond airport location that must be factored into the mix when determining the best London area airport for your particular mission. If your passengers require flexibility for potential schedule changes, it’s best to choose a location with limited curfews and peak commercial activity periods. For example, if the primary passenger is likely to want to depart after midnight it would be best to avoid Luton (EGGW), Farnborough (EGLF) and Biggin Hill (EGKB) as they close in the evening with no airport overtime available.
While the majority of business aviation traffic to the London area goes to Stansted (EGSS), Luton (EGGW) and Farnborough (EGLF) there are five other airports available. These are Biggin Hill (EGKB), Northolt (EGWU) (which is closed until November for runway resurfacing), London City (EGLC), Heathrow (EGLL) and Gatwick (EGKK). All of these airports have pros and cons to consider, depending on your particular mission requirements. Luton is closed between 23:00 L and 07:00L until the end of September and Stansted whilst open 24/7 has very limited night slot availability. The other airports either close late in the evening or have curfews/limitations on late night GA ops.
Location in relation to destination
London is a large metropolitan area, more than 30 miles across, so your meeting or hotel location will likely impact where you choose to land. The financial and Canary Warf districts are on the east side of London and may favor stopping at EGKB or EGSS. If your destination is a tech or automotive company on the west side of the city, EGLF may be a good choice. For access to the north of London, or central London, EGGW is often preferred. However, many operators find there’s seldom much difference in driving time into central London from either EGSS, EGGW or EGLF.
EGSS is a 24/7 airport of entry (AOE) with plenty of GA parking and full support services. Airport slots are required and there are restrictions to consider for noisier aircraft. For example, a BBJ may depart 24/7 while a private B747 may not be able to operate after 2330 local due to noise considerations. Aircraft hush kitted to Stage 3 standards are permitted, based on submitted noise certificates, but while they may be able to arrive 24/7, departures may be restricted after 2330 local.
EGGW is also a 24-hour during the winter period but closed during the summer at night between 23:00 L and 07:00L AOE with full GA support services and two FBOs available. Note that EGGW has very specific noise profiles operators must follow on departure and fines for infractions are routine. This location has less GA parking availability than EGSS and is the most expensive London area airport in terms of parking – which can run over 2,000 USD/night for a Global or larger Gulfstream aircraft.
EGLF is a military airfield that’s become more GA friendly over recent years but is currently closed for runway resurfacing until the end of November 2019. In some cases, operators are able to apply for a PPR in the morning and receive approval later the same day. Note that both airport slots and PPR are needed and military operations always take priority here. Your landing/departure permission may potentially be rescinded or delayed due to military or government movements. EGWU has an annual cap of flight movements and while this has not been exceeded over the past couple of years, there are occasional days when no airport slots are available. Note that the runway here is 5,535 ft. and larger aircraft — the size of an ACJ, BBJ or larger– may not be accommodated due to limited fire coverage.
Heathrow (EGLL) and Gatwick (EGKK)
While EGLL and EGKK are 24/7 airports, night slots are not usually available for GA. EGLL is one of the busiest airports in the world, operating at about 98% capacity, and if you need to change a confirmed slot time it may be hours before the next slot becomes available. This limits operating flexibility, especially if you have passengers who do not always keep to schedule. Special customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ) clearance is possible within one of two EGLL VIP clearance areas — the Royal and Window suites — for an additional charge of about 1,500 £ per use.
EGLF operates 0700-2200 local Monday-Friday, 0800-2000 local on weekends and bank holidays and is closed on Christmas and Boxing Day. Note that EGLF is a Stage 4 airport and very strict on noise. Stage 3 aircraft that meet Stage 4 noise standards, based on their noise certificate, may operate to this location.
This airport also has restrictions in place during the biennial Farnborough Airshow in July.
Biggin Hill (EGKB)
EGKB operates 0630-2200 local Monday-Friday and 0900-2000 local on weekend and bank holidays. This location has two FBOs available and full GA support services. Note that GA departures 0630-0730 local and arrivals 2100-2200 local are only possible with prior permission. While EGKB may look closer on the map to certain London destinations, keep in mind that there are no major road connections and drive times may be as long or longer as from other airports.
London City (EGLC)
EGLC is positioned close to central London and the Millennium Dome but has a short 4,948 ft. runway and there are aircraft performance issues to consider, due to a required steep glide slope. The parking ramp at EGLC is very small and it’s usually not possible to obtain more than a few hours parking. Operating hours are 0630-2130 local Monday-Friday, 0630-1230 local Saturday, 1230-2130 local Sunday, and 0900-2130 on bank holidays. Due to peak hours of commercial activity, restricted hours of GA operation and high costs EGLC is considered inconvenient for many operators.
Airport slots and PPR requirements
Of the eight London area airports available to GA all but two — EGKB and EGLF — have airport slot requirements. In the case of EGWU, prior permission required (PPR) is mandated and it’s necessary to submit full crew and passenger information, as well as a copy of your aircraft insurance, for both arrival and departure. (which is closed until November for runway resurfacing)
2. Handling, equipment & FBOs
All eight London area airports offer first rate handling and support services along with ground support equipment (GSE) for most general aviation (GA) aircraft models. There are multiple world-class FBO options depending on the airport. The London area can be a rather expensive operating environment from the handling, parking and services perspective and we recommend that operators shop around for not only the best airport option but also the best deal. Ground handlers will be happy to provide cost quotes to help you better refine operating options. Click here for more info on handling in the UK.
3. Hotel considerations
Good quality crew accommodations options are available close to all eight London area airports with typical prices for 4-star airport area crew rooms run about 125 £/night. For crew who prefer to stay in central London, some of the best 4- and 5-star accommodations in the world can be found, with 4-star rooms often running 180-200 £/night, depending on season and local event activity. Click here for more information on hotel accommodations in the UK.
4. Local transport
For safety and convenience, we recommend that crew consider prepaid transport (car with driver) and having your ground handler suggest a preferred and vetted provider. Although public taxis in London are very good, they’re often not able to find FBO locations easily and some crews, attempting to arrange transport on their own, have become lost in an area they are unfamiliar with. In the case of EGSS and EGLL, public rail links are available directly from the airport to the city center.
Another important consideration is the fuel cost that you will encounter when traveling to the London area. For example, EGGW fuel prices are approximately 37% higher than fuel at EGSS. Note that there may be a considerable difference, so it’s worth obtaining a fuel quote in advance, as this may make one airport more attractive in terms of price.
6. In-flight catering
Some of the best in-flight catering options in the world are available in the London area, including high-end commercial in-flight catering, specialty aviation caterers and restaurant/hotel options. When sourcing catering directly from local restaurants or hotels, be sure to check on any security screening limitations that may impact your ability to bring cuisine through security. Heathrow (EGLL), Gatwick (EGKK) and EGLF have mandatory screening of all passenger and crew luggage — making it difficult for the crew to bring an item such as a gallon of soup out to the aircraft. Other London area airports, including Stansted (EGSS) and EGGW, do not routinely screen passenger or crew luggage if the aircraft maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is under 45 tons. Should you wish to offload in-flight catering and store it for the next departure, this may be possible with advance arrangement, depending on the food items and handler has access to appropriate storage facilities at the airport.
Fencing, security cameras, and routine patrols – of perimeter and ramp areas – are standard at all UK airports. UK airports typically have their own airport police take care of security within the airport boundary, and these police forces have armed units. Some airports also have “special branch” police units available for high-profile and high-risk flight activity.
Regulations governing airport ramp side access vary by airport. Airside access for non-airport employees – such as an off-site aviation maintenance technician – is well controlled. For example obtaining an airside employee pass for EGSS requires a background check and five-year employment history. Access for off-site personnel and/or mechanics requires presentation of a passport and assistance of a ground handler in obtaining a temporary airport pass. All access airside by such personnel requires an escort. Private security can be arranged to guard your aircraft while it’s on the ramp, but security personnel due to police regulations may not be armed. Special security procedures are not in place for technical refueling stops in the UK unless crew members/passenger choose to exit the airport.
8. Permit requirements
While private non-revenue operations do not require permits, charter (non-scheduled commercial) operators do. Permit request lead times of 48-72 hours are recommended although charter permits may be processed on shorter notice. Note that permits are processed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) only Monday-Friday 0900-1700 local, and it’s important to supply all required documentation with the first request. Once a permit is approved validity is quite generous with a 48-hour window for arrival/departure. Schedule changes are not really an issue. However, if you need to change origin or destination airports this must be re-approved by CAA before you conduct that leg, and it’s something that occasionally trips up some operators.
In most cases, you’ll have more than one fixed-base operator (FBO) to choose from. All London area airports are highly secure with high fencing, routing patrols, adequate airside access controls and a visible airport police presence. Aircraft guards, if required, can be arranged and hangar accommodation for transient aircraft is often possible. Northolt (EGWU), being a military airfield, is a little different than other locations in that operators must pay all parking, handling and services charges prior to departure.
Domestic charter operations within the United Kingdom are strictly prohibited and regulated by Civil Aviation. Head of State and official diplomatic flights are the only operations considered at this time for approval. For example, a schedule request (KTEB-EGPH-EGSS-LFPB) would be restricted due to the internal UK (EGPH-EGSS) leg. In this scenario, the operator would have to limit to one stop in the UK or include a tech-stop outside the UK, i.e. (EGPH – EIDW (Ireland) – EGSS).
For more information on charter requirements, click here.
Customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ) clearance in the UK and at London Area airports is usually a very straight-forward procedure but there are certain strict rules to be aware of and that must be complied with. By working with your 3rd-party provider and ground handler in advance, express CIQ processing options are often available.
A general aviation report form must be completed and filed for every international arrival to the UK. Your ground handler normally fills out this form and submits it to CIQ prior to your arrival. Passengers are normally cleared first, followed by crew members. Depending on the airport, there may be different clearance procedures and processes to take into consideration. Onboard CIQ clearance may be permitted at certain airports, but this must be requested in advance and is at the discretion of the customs duty officer. If passenger or crew visas are required, you’ll need to have these prior to arrival. These must be UK visas and not Schengen visas, or you won’t be permitted into the country. At some UK airports, private vehicles are permitted on the ramp with advance approval.
11. Flight planning
Eurocontrol regulations apply for all operations into/out of the UK. The earlier a flight plan is filed on Eurocontrol’s website, the better – in terms of achieving preferred departure time. Check Eurocontrol’s Network Manager website to view current flight planning restrictions. Airway slots are issued two hours prior to departure. Restrictions that may be in effect at that time may impact airway slots. Once your airway slot has been issued, your 3rd-party provider will be able to determine from the Network Manager website what issues may be causing delay and whether the flight plan can be changed to avoid such delays. These delays may be caused by weather, strikes, radar failures, or military activity. For more information on UK fight planning, click here.
High wind conditions can happen quickly, so it’s important to be aware of latest weather data on the day of operation. While large international UK airports – such as Heathrow (EGLL) – have equipment to effectively deal with snow, smaller airfields – such as Biggin Hill (EGKB) – may take longer to reopen after a heavy snowfall. Deicing services are available at London airports, but you may experience delays with short-notice requests. During inclement weather conditions, hangar space may be available for transient general aviation. There are, however, capacity issues, and local operators usually have first priority for hangar space.
13. Tech stops
Both EGSS and EGGW are recommended tech stops as they operate 24/7 with 24/7 CIQ clearance available. For example, EGSS has a 10,000 ft. runway, a GA ramp located on the other side of the field separate from schedule commercial activity and good airline links for crew repositioning purposes.
CIQ authorities will advise where you’ll clear on international arrival. Clearance may be in an FBO, the main terminal, onboard the aircraft or via a ‘remote clearance.’ CIQ procedures are usually within an FBO and the process is fairly standardized at all airports of entry (AOEs). If you’ve allowed sufficient lead time, you may qualify for ‘remote clearance’ where you do not need to physically interact with CIQ officials on arrival. To request remote clearance, submit crew and passengers’ details to the ground handler who will forward the information to the UK Border Force. They’ll do checks prior to your arrival, confirm all documentation is correct upon landing and release the remote clearance. This option is possible at most London area airports but it’s always important to provide sufficient lead time for the UK Border Force to do its checks.
14. Peak season/high traffic events
Prime tourism season for the UK is June through August. High-traffic events include London Fashion Weeks, Wimbledon and various horse races and football matches. With so many airport options, the primary impact to business aviation operators are hotels, which often sell out during hight traffic events.
15. Regulatory considerations
Keep in mind regulatory considerations when operating to London such as UK Air Passenger Duty (APD).
If you’re an operator traveling to the UK, you must register with HMRC unless you qualify for the occasional operator’s scheme, in which case registration is not necessary, and you will need to account for and pay APD for each passenger departing the UK beginning April 1, 2013. Operators are financially liable for payment of APD to the HMRC. Other options for payment are still unknown at this time, and updates will be made as more information is released.
16. Other considerations
- Vaccinations – Not applicable
- Language issues – Not applicable
- Onboard pets: Temporary importation of personal pets into the UK is possible, but only for certain types of pets at certain airports. GA operations may bring in a dog, cat or ferret but only at three airports in the London area — at Stansted (EGSS), Biggin Hill (EGKB) and Farnborough (EGLF). Be aware that there are strict procedural and health requirements in place and your aircraft must be on an approved operator list. In addition to having up-to-date vaccination and health records, the pet must have had a rabies inoculation within the past six months and treatment for tapeworm 48 hours prior to arrival. Pet health details need to be forwarded to your handler, at least 24 hours in advance, so that they can coordinate the pet clearance process with a local pet processing company. On arrival at EGSS, EGKB or EGLF a ‘pet representative’ will come on board to scan the animal’s microchip and ensure all the records match up.
- Potential issues with pet importation: While the process of importing a pet into the UK is very doable with proper research and pre-planning, it’s important to follow all the rules. If you land with a pet at a non-approved London area airport you’ll likely encounter issues. Authorities may allow you to be permitted or immediately depart but you run the risk of having the pet taken into quarantine for months.
- Weapons onboard: It’s allowable to land your GA aircraft in the UK with weapons onboard so long as they’ve been properly declared and approvals have been obtained. If you’re flying to the UK for shooting season, which normally begins in September, you’ll need to have all paperwork in place for your guns along with a hunting license organized by the landowner for the shooting location. If you’re just stopping in the UK with weapons onboard, these can usually be stored at the airport with recommended 24-48 hours advance notification. Some FBOs have contracts in place with local gun dealers who are licensed to transport and store weapons during your extended stay in the UK.
London is one of the premier business aviation destinations in the world. Operators have abundant quality options both in providers and airports. Consider your destination within the London area to create a plan that meets your specific needs.