Nicknamed “The Strongest Link” from its wartime days, London Biggin Hill Airport is the site of a tactical new addition to Bombardier’s global service network. By Katie Sehl | photos by Ian Billinghurst
erched at one of the highest altitudes within London’s M25 ring road, the airport on Biggin Hill is so well positioned that its history-book significance has long been etched in the patchwork countryside. In 1940, when the clouds of World War II gathered above London, the airport was chosen as the strategic base for the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the airmen Churchill praised as “The Few” for successfully staving off German invasion in the Battle of Britain. Residents of the hillside town in the London Borough of Bromley grew up with a certain pride that comes with regularly spotting fighter jets overhead and knowing the distinctive rumble of their engines better than the mailman’s whistle. Today, Biggin Hill Airport’s café, The Lookout, serves toasted bacon sandwiches to locals, all in view of teacup-clattering takeoffs and landings. Tableside banter includes ghost stories of fallen RAF pilots or the sighting of a World War II-era fighter aircraft that’s said to haunt the area, especially during the night of January 19th. The 100-year-old airport’s mark on the community is not lost on Michael Ainsworth, newly appointed General Manager of the Bombardier Business Aircraft Biggin Hill Service Center. “One of the things that never escapes us is that we’re within striking distance of aviation history,” he says. “I’ve seen the planespotters just outside the perimeter of the new facility, and it always brings a smile to my face.”
Old Meets New
World War II-era fighter aircraft still regularly take to the skies for special events, as do light aircraft from local clubs, but the Biggin Hill Airport’s proximity to London has also transformed the airfield into a central hub for charter operations and business aviation. The Gherkin looms on the airport’s horizon as a beacon of the nearby financial district, only about 12 miles (or a six-minute helicopter ride) away. “London is the major business aviation destination of Europe,” says Walter Berchtold, Project Manager, Fort Lauderdale Service Center, and acting General Manager of Biggin Hill during its launch phase.
Redbrick barracks, an old RAF chapel and a heritage hangar provide the airport with a historic backdrop, but the buildings housing Bombardier’s new 32,991-square-foot (3,065-square-meter) hangar as well as a maintenance repair and overhaul facility are relatively new. When Berchtold arrived onsite last year, things were still in mint condition. “It was basically turn key, move in,” he says. The team set to work immediately, recruiting mechanics and engineers and setting up as soon as possible for early line maintenance approvals. The facility is now fully operational with tip-to-tail heavy maintenance activities up and running. For operators, Biggin Hill is a one-stop shop. The hangar, large enough to accommodate four Bombardier Global jets, is open seven days a week for both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance on Bombardier Learjet, Challenger and Global aircraft. Avionics installation capability, ongoing expansion of part holdings and retrofit cover just about any service need. For customers, a terminal managed by fixed-base operator Signature Flight Support takes care of border control and security screenings, and tends to international traveler needs with private meeting centers, prayer rooms and shower facilities. Settling into a skyward-looking community comes with its advantages. Talented engineers and mechanics haven’t been hard to come by locally, and plans between the airport, Bombardier Business Aircraft and London South East College to create an apprenticeship program promise to keep that tradition alive. “The airport has a rich aviation history, and we want to build on this,” says Andy Nureddin, Vice President, Customer Support and Training. Construction is also underway on a luxury hotel right next door to the service center. With business booming on all fronts, it’s no wonder London mayor Sadiq Khan described Bombardier’s decision to move in as “a significant coup for London.”
making history While Biggin Hill Airport is a century old, Bombardier’s service center (including a generous hangar) is a hub for modern aviation.
Published on May 18, 2017
Published on May 18, 2017
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