EBACE 2011: Jet set returns to France

EBACE Convention News » 2011
May 17, 2011, 9:10 PM

When the global financial crisis took much of the fizz out of the champagne lifestyle in France’s millionaire’s playground along the Côte-d’Azur it was not surprising that the main private aviation airports there took a big hit in terms of traffic levels. But now the recovery is in full swing, according to the management of the region’s main business aviation gateways Niceand Cannes-Mandelieu.

Last year traffic at these two airports, owned collectively by the local chamber of commerce, jumped an average of 9.3 percent to revert to its pre-crisis level of activity. Nice, which accommodates aircraft weighing more than 22 metric tons (48,500 pounds), accounts for 73 percent of business aviation traffic. It recorded growth of 11.7 percent to reach 31,067 movements last year. Cannes, which cannot accept aircraft in the 22-ton-and-above bracket, showed growth of 3.1 percent to 10,950 movements–illustrating the widely held perception that times have been harder for operators of smaller aircraft in the recent downturn.

These figures compare with an overall year-on-year traffic decrease of 16.2 percent in 2009when Nice traffic fell by 16.9 percent and that at Cannes dropped by 14.4 percent. Their joint level of activity ranks the two Côte-d’Azur airports third in Europe after Paris and Geneva.

It is on this basis that investment programs at both airports have continued, with the inauguration last year of a dedicated business terminal in Nice, a $2.9-million makeover of the former “Corsica” facility adjoining Terminal 2. The completely refurbished building includes VIP and crew areas, as well as luxury goods outlets.

Cannes-Mandelieu (Stand 368) is bound by its own “environmental charter” to reduce noise, air and water pollution. This has resulted in a strict ban on night flights and prohibits lengthening the runway, as well as imposing a movement ceiling of just four takeoffs and four landings an hour. In reality, the main problem is not aircraft weight, but noise.

Nonetheless, traffic is expected to remain steady and the airport’s modernization program includes construction of four hangars–three of them for business aviation and the fourth for the airport’s intense general aviation activity. These buildings will incorporate technical and maintenance facilities, offices and dedicated crew areas. They are earmarked for inauguration in 2012.

While Nice benefits from ’round-the-clock operations, Cannes is restricted to opening hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in winter and 8 a.m. to sundown plus 30 minutes in summer (in practice, up to 9:45 p.m. in June). Nice boasts runways of up to 9,711 feet and has no limit on aircraft weight, while Cannes’ longest runway is 5,280 feet. Both airports have had to introduce a slot-coordination system between April 23 and October 23 to control the risks of traffic saturation in these peak periods and guarantee flight punctuality.

Further west along the Cote-d’Azur, Le Castellet, the region’s first privately owned airport, has gained from the underdevelopment of business aviation at Marseille, France’s second-largest city, just 34 nm away. It has become a popular alternative to Nice and Cannes for the jet set.

The airport recently opened a fifth hangar capable of accommodating two Boeing Business Jets, four Falcon 7Xs or four Gulfstream G550s. To increase its appeal to business and private aircraft operators, the airport, with its 5,741-foot runway, can be open 24/7 on request and it has made substantial investments in facilities to accommodate VIPs. But these advantages are somewhat countered by its geographical location that leaves it susceptible to the strong southeasterly Mistral winds.

Le Castellet (Stand 267) is never busier than for the annual Monaco Grand Prix Formula 1 race and for the Cannes Film Festival–both of which are held in May. In fact, since 1999, the airport has been owned by Formula 1 auto racing tycoon Bernie Ecclestone, who also owns the nearby Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track racing circuit. Le Castellet re-opened early in 2002, after having to close temporarily to be extensively redeveloped after asbestos was found in its hangars. It is now believed to be the only airport in Europe that can offer a completely hermetically sealed hangar–necessary to protect aircraft from the corrosive effect of the high quantities of salt in the local atmosphere. With its adjacent ramp area, the 59,000-sq-ft hangar five offers a total of 172,230 sq ft of parking space and direct access to the runway. Office accommodation also is available on site.    

Four other hangars with parking ramps are able to accommodate aircraft up to the size of an Airbus Corporate Jetliner. Its full-service FBO terminal has a boarding area, customs services and a business center. The immediate area of Le Castellet also boasts several fine restaurants and three- and four-star hotels.

Inland Lyon Bron Airport provides a convenient business aircraft access point for this major city and the surrounding industrial Rhône-Alpes region. It is France’s third busiest bizav airport and movements have grown significantly since the inauguration of its purpose-built FBO in 2005.

The terminal is open from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. all year, but the hours can be extended on request. Traffic last year was steady at 6,750 movements, representing a 1.2-percent rise over 2009.

Lyon Bron (Stand 267) marked its centenary last year with the inauguration of a 32,000-sq-ft hangar used mainly for business aviation passengers. The $4.7 million investment included 15,000-sq-ft of solar cells that produce 90-megawatt hours of electricity per year. On April 1, operations manager Philippe Treillet retired after 25 years on the job.

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