'Solar farm' plan unveiled as Biggin Hill airport reaches for sky with green travel ambition

It's like a scene from the Netflix drama Succession, with a hangar full of private jets that would have suited Logan Roy.

But while Biggin Hill aspires to be “London’s pre-eminent business aviation airport”, it also has the aim of being at the forefront of green air travel.

It wants to build up to a 20 megawatt “solar farm” on 100 acres of adjacent fields – alongside a 60-acre development that would potentially lead Europe in the introduction of futuristic electric-powered aircraft that take-off and land vertically.

Chief executive David Winstanley told the Standard that “eVTOL” (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft could be operating from Biggin Hill “within the next three years, easily”.

Initially, these would be similar to helicopters – but could adapt as their range increases as technology develops.

They would be “phenomenally quieter” than current aircraft. Mr Winstanley said: “The business aviation sector is very much the doorway to that innovation – and has been over the past 15 to 20 years.”

Biggin Hill, on the edge of Bromley, just inside the London/Kent border, was a Second World War RAF fighter station and its pilots flew throughout the Battle of Britain. It became a private airport in 1994.

There were 46,000 aircraft “movements” at Biggin Hill last year – its busiest year. This averages at 140 flights a day - a combination of business jets, helicopters, smaller aircraft and heritage flights.

Six minutes: the helicopter shuttle from Biggin Hill to Battersea heliport (Biggin Hill airport)
Six minutes: the helicopter shuttle from Biggin Hill to Battersea heliport (Biggin Hill airport)

Its lease from Bromley council, which owns the land, caps annual flights at a maximum of 125,000. It aims to reach 54,000 by 2025.

But some residents have expressed long-running concerns, with the Flightpath Watch group saying the increase in flights had become an “unpleasant reality” for the 90,000 residents living under its flight path.

At present, business and VIP passengers wanting to travel to central London can take a six-minute helicopter shuttle to Battersea heliport, beside the Thames.

Biggin Hill says this is the quickest transfer of all business charter airports serving the capital, putting it ahead of Farnborough and Luton.

Mr Winstanley said there was a “common misconception that business aviation only relates to elite [passengers]”, but often included firms looking to transport a number of executives to the same location.

There is an aim of introducing fare-paying passengers – effectively allowing charter flights to be shared. At present, this is not permitted under the airport’s licence from Bromley council.

It will “only ever be a business airport” and has no ambition to compete against the likes of City Airport or even Luton or Stansted. “We are not in the mass public transport business,” Mr Winstanley said. “We are selling choice, time and discretion.”

By discretion, he means privacy. The Standard was asked not to film any details identifying the aircraft that had landed at the airport.

Almost 65 per cent of flights in and out of Biggin Hill involve charter aircraft – namely, aircraft not owned by the passengers.

It is also used for medical repatriation flights – for example, when a UK holidaymaker falls ill abroad.

During President Trump’s State visit to Britain in 2019, a fleet of US Merlin helicopters were based at Biggin Hill.

“We will never be Heathrow or Gatwick, nor the next City airport. We will never be Ryanair or EasyJet. That is not our sector.”

The airport is already home to about 70 firms, including Bombardier and F1, which flies its staff to all European grand prix from Biggin Hill. The airport supports about 1,500 direct jobs.

“Our role is to attract inward investment,” Mr Winstanley said. “That generates economic value for the local region and creates real jobs for local people. That has been our focus for the past 10 years.

“We are far more than just an airport. We are an eco-system of complementary businesses.”