Sunday 14 April 2019 2:46 pm

Biggin Hill boss says Britain must become more competitive as Brexit causes private jet slump

Reporter at City A.M. covering City politics, transport and law. Get in touch:

Reporter at City A.M. covering City politics, transport and law. Get in touch:

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London's business aviation market is down 5.5 per cent on last year as uncertainty around Brexit continues to bite, a boss at one of London's busiest private jet airports has said.

Robert Walters, business development director at London Biggin Hill Airport, said "the number one message" he was receiving from customers was that they needed to fly in and out of the capital less due to Britain's ongoing indecision as to when and how it is going to leave the EU.

He said the near six per cent reduction in the lucrative market was "obviously a challenge and a sign that all is not well in the global economy".

"People who want to do business don't want to come to London because of the uncertainty," he said. "The reputation of the UK as a good place to do business is being immeasurably harmed by this. Customers have said that if the UK leaves, they won't be coming back. Any many have not."

Read more: Private jet hub Biggin Hill to slash airport charges from April

In an interview with City A.M:, Walters said the UK was becoming "too expensive" to do business and that the cost of building infrastructure in the UK was becoming a "hard sell" because of stamp duty and high business rates.

He said the UK needed to make itself "more competitive" at a time of Brexit and offer more incentives such as relief on stamp duty and business rates.

“It is crucial that the UK is still in a competitive position compared to the rest of the world after Brexit," he said. "The business community is ready to stand behind the government and find new ways to ensure the uninterrupted flow of international investment into London and the UK, provided we are given the tools we need to attract global trade.

“So far, London Biggin Hill Airport has been successful in attracting more than 70 aerospace companies to take up residence on site. Particularly during this uncertain time, it is important for these kinds of companies to have confidence in their future in the UK. In order to continue attracting sizeable investment, businesses like London Biggin Hill need to be on a level playing field with Europe and beyond. Ensuring business rates and other charges remain competitive is a key part of that.”

Biggin Hill is the third largest private jet airport in the UK, after Luton and Farnborough.

Last month it actually enjoyed an nine per cent increase in activity on March the previous year due it picking up traffic from other London airports, whose capacity thresholds are bursting.

Elsewhere, the airport has attracted manufacturing giants Bombardier and Textron Aviation to its premises. Bombardier moved on to the site in 2017, while Textron Aviation joined last year.

Read more: Brexit will create a 'migraine' for private aviation, says industry CEO

Walters warned that while Bombardier are "very keen to remain in the UK and at Biggin Hill, they are mindful of the political challenges and the competitive atmosphere in Europe".

One of the biggest barriers to growth in the industry is the lack of skilled labour, which Biggin Hill says it is tackling with a new technology college which is due to open in September 2020. The airport aims to create 2,300 jobs by 2030, and has already created 300.