On July 5th 2010 Biggin Hill Airport Ltd. gave notice to Air Displays International Ltd. to summarily terminate the licence under which the Biggin Hill International Air Fair is run. The 25-year licence was originally granted in 1988 and had 3 years to run.
The Air Fair was founded and run throughout its 48-year history by Jock Maitland, a respected figure in the aviation community. Given that the event was universally praised as a model of good management, it was with shock that the notice of termination was received, on the somewhat technical grounds that the Maitland family shareholding in Air Displays International no longer conformed with the terms of the licence.
The reports in the Press attributed to Biggin Hill Airport Ltd Chairman, Mr. Andrew Walters imply a degree of both urgency and legal requirement to assume “a high degree of control” over the Air Fair. The reality is that since 2005, Colin Hitchins, CEO of ADI, has been the CAA approved Display Director, and since Jock Maitland’s retirement in 2006, Colin has been running the Air Fair. With five years of successfully organising the Air Fair, there are neither “new circumstances” nor indeed a legal requirement for the Airport Company to take over the Air Fair at this time, especially since there are only three more years to run under the Air Fair Licence.
The taking over of the Air Fair represents a sad end to the remarkable achievements of Jock Maitland, a man known for his distinguished career in the RAF and USAF, and for services to aviation for which he received an MBE in 2008.
Air Displays International would like to ensure that the record and the history of the Air Fair are fully known and appreciated for the future.
Jock Maitland took a lease of Biggin Hill Airport in 1958, when the Royal Air Force no longer required it as an operational airfield. Both the airfield and Air Fair were run on a series of short-term leases and licenses negotiated with the various local authorities, which in turn were responsible for the airfield. Until 1974 there was no real security of tenure and it is very likely that had it not been for Jock Maitland’s tenacity this historic airfield would have closed and been built over. From 1974 to 1988 the airfield was run sucessfully in cooperation with the London Borough of Bromley and the Air Fair continued its unbroken run with a series of longer-term licenses granted by Bromley.
In 1988 Bromley were obliged by government legislation to privatise the airport and were approached by Airports UK, a subsidiary of the BAA. As part of the buy out, Air Displays International Ltd. were granted a 25-year licence to run the Air Fair. In 1994 Regional Airports Ltd. (owner of Biggin Hill Airport Ltd.) took over the airport from Airports UK along with the obligation to allow Air Displays International to continue to run the Air Fair until July 2013.
In 2002 Jock Maitland’s son Jim, who had been the Managing Director of Air Displays International, resigned after 20 years in order to pursue his other interests and businesses, and as a result, the company structure was altered, giving rise to the breach of the licence which has been used in order to terminate it.
As mentioned above, Colin Hitchins, was appointed CEO in 2004. Under his management, the Air Fair has gone from strength to strength, with the prestige of the event now as high as it has ever been. Jock Maitland, for his part, gradually passed over the running of the event to his management team, and now, aged 85, has been reluctantly retired since 2006. Despite the continued success and safety record of the Air Fair, Biggin Hill Airport Ltd has used its entitlement to serve the notice of termination without further discussion with the management.
The most immediate consequence of which is likely to be the loss of employment for the dedicated and experienced team of 6 full and part time employees of Air Displays International.
Squadron Leader Jock Maitland DFC, MBE
Jock Maitland joined the RAF during the Second World War. He saw active service on Spitfires in Palestine and commanded a squadron of Venoms in the Suez crisis. He served in the USAF as a fighter pilot, during a temporary transfer from the RAF, during the Korean War when he won the Distinguished Flying Cross (US) and was credited with destroying two MiG fighter aircraft. After leaving the RAF in 1958 he became involved in civil aviation with the lease of Biggin Hill Airport followed by the start of the Air Fair in 1963.
Additional comment from Jim Maitland
‘’I regret the Airports decision to terminate the licence 3 years early. There was no legal necessity to do so. My father had retired leaving the management of the show in the hands of a very competent team which had proved itself by delivering a series of highly acclaimed, successful and extremely well organised events .My fathers, and the Maitland family interest would have come to a natural conclusion in 3 years time and I feel that the premature termination of the licence is a completely unjustified and inappropriate way to end a remarkable legacy.’’