Why does President Trump fly through London’s low-cost airport?

Dec 3, 2019

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What was President Trump doing Monday night on the tarmac of London Stansted Airport (STN)? Certainly not boarding a Ryanair flight. Instead, he just landed at the airport, located some 40 miles northeast of London.

With Air Force One’s touchdown at the Essex airfield on Monday, President Trump began a his visit to the U.K. for the NATO summit. Although Stansted is best known as an airport serving primarily low-cost airlines — it is, in fact, Ryanair’s busiest base — Stansted is no stranger to the business of welcoming sitting US presidents.

This is the third Stansted landing for U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania after their four-day visit to Britain in summer 2018 and again in July 2019. Barack Obama also used Stansted Airport on three separate occasions during his presidency.

But, of all London airports, why Stansted?

The airport is not typically used by the United Kingdom’s own state flights. For example, the Royal Air Force’s No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron, tasked with transporting the Queen and other members of the Royal Family, would typically use RAF Northolt (NHT) — some 12 miles west of Central London.

But, while RAF Northolt’s 1,684-meter runway is enough for the Queen’s Bae-146s, it would be too short for a fully loaded Boeing 747 (or, in this case, its VC-25 version, designated as Air Force One when the president is on board). It wouldn’t be enough either for the rest of the President’s flying entourage, which includes a replacement presidential plane and a number of support planes.

Photo courtesy of Upsplash.
(Photo courtesy of Upsplash)

In the past, three Chinook and two Sea King helicopters were also flown in advance from the U.S. on military cargo planes. One of them, designated as Marine One, flew President Trump into Central London (a convenient way to skip Central London’s congestion charge) for tea with Her Majesty the Queen.

“The US government regularly uses Stansted, not just for the arrival of Air Force One”, Mark Davison, press officer at Stansted Airport, explained to The Points Guy U.K. “The flight is accommodated on the northside of the airport at one of the private operator terminals, so has no disruption on the main passenger terminal. The airport has good access to the motorway network, so support vehicles can easily and quickly be on the road to London, as well as being within flying distance to the capital for Marine One”.

Stansted has spare runway capacity, which minimises disruption in such exceptional occasions. When President Trump flew in on Monday, a short freeze on flight operations was implemented. Surprisingly, and according to Stansted Airport sources, this circumstance had a rather limited impact on the normal operation of the airport.

To put things in context, in 2008 when President George W. Bush flew into heavily congested Heathrow Airport, the airport saw 63 cancelled flights and hundreds more suffered delays of 30 minutes or more.

The U.K. Prime Minister sometimes uses Heathrow Airport when on long-haul trips. In such occasions, the aircraft used is a RAF Voyager, a version of the Airbus A330 MRTT that can fulfill a dual role as air refuelling tanker and VIP Transport. But also in those circumstances, the logistics involved are more modest compared to those of a US President.

Air Force One is set to remain at STN for the duration of Trump’s visit, with Harrods Aviation taking care of it. The location of its facilities, which are on the other side of the airfield from the main passenger terminal, means that most regular passengers might not even realise the 747 is there.

Featured photo courtesy of Stansted Airport.

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