A chilly but sunny day greeted a privileged group of members of the Probus Club of Basingstoke on what was to be an extremely informative and interesting insight into the modern day VIP operations on this airfield.
Farnborough airfield is perhaps best known for being the venue for the world renowned SBAC (Society of British Aerospace Companies) Farnborough International Air Show. However, this is a much biased view of what has been one of the most important, albeit non operational, airfields in the UK. Farnborough’s part in the early development on military aviation and its subsequent involvement with testing and evaluation has secured its place in British aviation heritage.
Farnborough Common was chosen by the British Army in 1905 as a site for His Majesty’s Balloon Factory to manufacture the new dirigible type of balloon. It had plenty of space and was nearby to existing manufacturing facilities at Aldershot. An impressive balloon shed was built followed by gas holders and workshops plus the establishment of a balloon school. The Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) was established in 1993 and has been instrumental in the preservation and safeguarding of this part of priceless aviation legacy.
It was on the common on 16 October 1908 that saw Samuel Cody achieving the first sustained powered flight in England flying British Army Aeroplane No 1 and in April 1911 the site became the Army Aircraft Factory. With the expansion of the RFC during WW1 the site became known as the Royal Aircraft Factory (RAF). The name changed, however, in April 1918 with the formation of the Royal Air Force becoming the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), and it was in this guise of aviation related research and development that Farnborough remained primarily concerned with until 1985.
Encroaching environmental issues with housing and the overcrowded airspace surrounding the airfield had put pressure on military flying research and development activities. However, a reprieve from total closure was gained because of the site’s value as an ideal venue for the SBAC Show and the lack of an alternative. Part of the airfield was released by the MOD for general and business aviation use and an aerospace park was established in the 1990s.
Following further closure arguments, due mainly to poor general aviation uptake, it was decided to sell the site. The company TAG, (Techniques d’Avant Garde), a Luxembourg registered company only formed in 1977, secured the airfield for a multi-million pound price tag. The company had other business interests, formally purchasing the Swiss based Heuer watch company in which they invested significant sums and expanded worldwide sales. The watch retains the name TAG Heuer even though owned today by the luxury brand group LVMH. They also had substantial motorsport interests being a sponsor to the Williams Formula 1 team in the 1980s and today own 25% of the McLaren Group.
Significant capital expenditure was made by the company in landscaping and modernizing the airfield in keeping with bespoke VIP business jet operations and current Civilian Aviation Authority regulations. These included a new control tower, radar unit, spacious specially designed aircraft maintenance hangars and an extensive aircraft apron for multi jet parking, servicing and operations. The 2440 metres runway was resurfaced. In line with attracting business users TAG also commissioned a luxurious terminal building that provides the very best hospitality in spacious and beautiful lounges for both VIP passengers and Aircraft Crews. Besides customs, immigration and security facilities passengers may drive directly to their waiting aircraft. No lengthy and tedious waits here inbound or outbound! Their customers demand and receive high quality and discrete service standards evidenced by the carefully escorted tours enjoyed by aviation enthusiasts.
All are part of a comprehensive bespoke solution encompassing complete aircraft and passenger handling services for business clients on London’s doorstep and very close to a motorway connection. The TAG operation at Farnborough supports the employment of over 1000 people and 28,000 annual aircraft movements. This is to be increased to 50,000, gradually being phased in over the forthcoming years.
More photographs were taken but by agreement they had to be approved by TAG before they could be used in our publicity activities. Consequently jets belonging to several well known people cannot be shown. But if you are are a person of significant wealth and own such an aircraft you can keep it dry in one of the hangers for £500 a night.