TAG Aviation has been praised for its vision in creating Europe's leading business airport at Farnborough.

Transport Minister John Spellar said the Luxembourg-based company deserved credit for putting in the necessary investment to create a "centre of excellence".

He made his remarks during a special leasing ceremony on Wednesday last week at which the Ministry of Defence handed over the airfield to the company.

Mr Spellar described the event as a milestone in the long history of Farnborough - known as "The Home of Flying".

The award of a Civil Aviation Authority Licence was also, he said, a significant achievement for the airfield.

"Having operated as a military airfield for well over 100 years, it now has to conform to the highest standards required for the operation of civil aviation in terms of safety and environmental standards," added Mr Spellar.

"This is not only good news for those flying in and out of the airfield but, most importantly, for those local residents who live in its vicinity."

During his visit he opened the airfield's new space-age air traffic control tower which dominates the skyline. The tower is part of the £9 million investment TAG has made in the airfield since moving in five years ago.

Mansour Ojjeh, TAG chairman, confirmed that the company had no plans to introduce charter flights, and said Farnborough would be retained as an exclusively business airport.

There will be 28,000 aircraft movements a year at the airport when it is operating to full capacity. About five per cent of these will involve the so-called "whispering" corporate aircraft including the Airbus 319 and the Boeing business jet.

Picture: Simon Barry is the operator with his head in the clouds on duty as an air traffic controller in Farnborough's new control tower.