Why Does President Trump Fly Through London’s Low-Cost Airport?

Jun 4, 2019

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What were Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Essex and the United States’ ambassador to the UK doing Monday morning on the tarmac of London Stansted airport? Certainly not boarding a Ryanair flight.

Instead, they were waiting for a special guest to land at the airport, some 40 miles northeast of London.

With Air Force One’s 8:55am touchdown at the airfield in Essex on Monday, President Donald Trump began a three-day state visit to the UK. Although Stansted (STN) is best known as an airport serving primarily low-cost airlines — it is, in fact, Ryanair’s busiest base — it is no stranger to the business of welcoming sitting US presidents.

This is the second landing at STN for Trump and first lady Melania Trump after their four-day visit to Britain in summer 2018. President Barack Obama also used Stansted Airport on three separate occasions during his tenure in the White House.

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, charged with transporting the queen and other members of the royal family, would typically use the RAF base at Northolt, some 12 miles west of central London.

But, while RAF Northolt’s mile-long runway is enough for the squadron’s small BAE 146 jets, it’s too short for a fully loaded Boeing 747 (or, in this case, its VC-25 military version, designated Air Force One when the president is on board). It also wouldn’t be enough for the rest of the president’s flying entourage, which includes a replacement presidential plane and a number of support planes.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 03: Air Force One following the arrival of US President Donald Trump at Stansted Airport on June 3, 2019 in London, England. President Trump
Air Force One at Stansted Airport on June 3, 2019 (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Three Chinook and two Sea King helicopters were also flown in advance from the US on military cargo planes. One of them, designated Marine One, flew President Trump into the city (a convenient way to skip central London’s congestion charge) for tea with 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. “The flight is accommodated on the north side 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 minimizes disruption on such exceptional occasions. When Trump flew in on Monday, there was a short freeze on flight operations. Surprisingly, according to Stansted Airport sources, this had a rather limited impact on the normal operations of the airport.

The arrival took place just after the airport’s first wave of morning departures, so the only noticeable effect was a few minor delays to scheduled traffic during that time. To put things in context, in 2008 when President George W. Bush flew into heavily congested Heathrow Airport (LHR), the airport saw 63 canceled flights, and hundreds others suffered delays of 30 minutes or more.

The UK prime minister sometimes uses Heathrow Airport when on long-haul trips. On such occasions, the aircraft used is a RAF Voyager, a version of the Airbus A330 MRTT that can fulfill a dual role as air-refueling tanker and VIP transport. But also in those circumstances, the logistics involved are more modest compared to those for a US president.

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

Following the three-day UK visit, Trump will travel to Normandy, France, to attend ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Allied landings in World War II.

Featured photo of Air Force One landing at Stansted on July 12, 2018 by Leon Neal/Getty Images

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