Yorkshire entrepreneur Chris Makin has launched a private aviation service for high-net-worth individuals at the former RAF base he bought from the Ministry of Defence.
The managing director of Makin Enterprises told The Yorkshire Post that Church Fenton has “enormous” commercial potential and has renamed it Leeds East Airport.
He is investing in a £2.5m HondaJet and a £3m Agusta executive helicopter to provide a bespoke doorstep-to-destination service for wealthy entrepreneurs.
His new company Makin Air will also have use of a Learjet to offer luxury trips further afield.
Prices range from £1,900 an hour to £140,000 for 50 hours, according to the company literature.
Mr Makin, 58, said he hopes to launch a charter service to London City Airport in the next 12 months at a a similar cost to first-class train travel to appeal to professionals.
“Then we can build from there,” added Mr Makin, who said that he bought check-in desks and baggage-handling equipment from the owners of Blackpool Airport last week.
He said: “It’s accessibility is very easy. That’s what I think will bring people here. It’s unbelievable how much potential there is. It’s the best site in Yorkshire.”
The airfield is close to the A1(M) and has a train station nearby. It is also close to the planned high-speed rail link between London and the North.
Mr Makin questioned why the region should wait 25 years for HS2 when a new commercial airport could be up and running within 12-18 months. Leeds Bradford Airport has long been criticised over its location.
RAF Church Fenton was one of the most important airfields in the Second World War, being close to the industrial heartlands of Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield.
Mr Makin and his two daughters hosted a launch event for more than 100 entrepreneurs and advisors at a newly revamped hangar building, expensively decked out for the occasion with jets, helicopters, Bentley and Ginetta cars and Harley Davidson motorbikes.
Eldest daughter Annabel Makin-Jones, 33, said: “There is nothing like (Makin Air) in Yorkshire. We know a lot of people that are crying out for an alternative to Leeds Bradford Airport or travelling to Manchester...
“We need something better and this gives people an option to travel a lot easier and more comfortably.”
The family completed the purchase of RAF Church Fenton for an undisclosed sum on Christmas Eve after the 450-acre, two-runway site was deemed surplus to requirements by the Ministry of Defence and put on the market.
Mr Makin, who holds a pilot’s licence, said the land was “very cheap” and has turned down offers to sell.
He added: “What do I trade at? The right money, where it can only go one way.”
The family’s ownership has attracted interest from the film and television industry.
Mr Makin said he has done a deal with Screen Yorkshire; he said the film agency wants to develop a studio on the site.
He is an astute businessman who diversified the family farming business into importing potatoes from Israel in the 1990s and then into growing soft fruit in the 2000s.
“Historically I was a farmer’s son to start. I was born where I live in Garforth,” he said.
He described himself as an entrepreneur who “likes things with value and giving people value for money”.
Makin Enterprises produces 200,000 tonnes of strawberries a year and is a big supplier of strawberries to Morrisons and Aldi.
Mr Makin said: “Ken Morrison is a friend of mine and we started growing fruit together. He said, ‘Don’t ever forget you’re the lowest cost operator’.
“I delivered fruit 12 miles to Bradford. Another producer is in Scotland. They have to travel 200 miles to deliver their fruit. Who’s going to be the most cost effective? Who’s going to make the most profit? The same here. We will run it as a lean machine.”
He added: “We just need to get everything in place and then it will come naturally.”
Faster, further and higher
The star of the show at today’s launch of Makin Air was the £2.5m HondaJet, making one of its first appearances on UK shores.
The US-built light jet claims to offer best-in-class cruise speed and fuel efficiency as well as increased cabin and cargo space.
Chris Makin said he ordered a HondaJet in 2008 and is set to take delivery in January 2016.
Simon Roads, director of sales for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Honda Aircraft Company, said the business has more than 100 back orders.
“We can fly at 43,000 ft, versus our competition at 41,000 ft. We go faster, further and higher for less money.”