27 July 2022
The business concept was to start an aircraft disassembly business. Tim, who was working for a private equity company in Dubai at the time, responded to say that if Mike could find a location at which to base the business, then he would participate in the next steps to develop the venture.
The search was on. Mike and Tim’s family homes were in Derbyshire, so the obvious solution was to investigate East Midlands Airport (EMA), which was about 30 minutes’ drive away. The Property Manager at EMA initially proposed Hangar 4, one of the old British Midland hangars, but it quickly became apparent that this would not be viable for both economic reasons, and the nature of the business – this would become a repeated theme as further operational airports were explored. It became clear that airports with any significant passenger traffic did not like the visual impression created by an aircraft disassembly and disposal business, and they could also make more money renting a hangar to other parties, which had different operating economics.
With the help of Wikipedia, Mike proceeded to download all the airfields in the UK and Ireland, evaluating them for operational capability (runway length/width, pavement loading), security, availability of hangarage, ease of customer access. The original list of 44 quickly reduced to 12, but after further dialogues and visits with passenger-carrying airports, such as Doncaster and Bournemouth, the list rapidly shortened to only consider secondary airfields. A former British Aerospace airfield, Woodford, was contacted, but the decision had just been made to close the site for property development. By extraordinary good fortune, Mike contacted the Welsh government office responsible for the industrial development of MOD St. Athan, just at the moment that they had decided to proceed with a new strategic direction of creating an Aerospace Business Park.
Mike visited MOD St. Athan to meet the airfield management team in October 2011 and quickly concluded that the location ticked all the boxes required for a parking, storage and end-of-life facility. RAF St Athan’s history meant it had the infrastructure of an airport in terms of security, Air Traffic Control, Instrument Landing System (ILS), and Rescue & Firefighting services, as well as a recently re-surfaced runway capable of landing and departing all types of commercial and military aircraft. To supplement the airfield capability, the MOD St Athan location had a rich history of heavy maintenance, supported by numerous economical hangars available for occupancy, while the nearby presence of British Airways Maintenance Cardiff meant that the local resource pool included substantial numbers of skilled Aircraft Maintenance Technicians.
Tim joined Mike for the next visit and agreed with the initial assessment - the location decision had been made in principle. It was an important platform on which to build the company, but led to a surge of activities that needed to be accomplished in parallel to start the operation:
….there was an awful lot to do in a short amount of time, and, at this stage, just two people to do it!