Athens meets Olympic bizav traffic challenge

 - October 8, 2007, 11:23 AM

With 2,166 movements (1,088 departures and 1,078 arrivals) by general aviation aircraft in August, including 160 for heads of state, Athens Eleftherios Venizelos Airport faced the toughest challenge in its history while handling and parking this traffic during the Olympic Games.

AIN spoke with Athina Kapeni, manager of airline commercial services and ground handling at Athens International Airport (AIA), and E. Stergiopoulos and Jitte Boutens, managing director and account manager, respectively, of Athens Aviation Services (AAS), the local FBO (see page 16), to assess how business aviation fared during the event.

Traffic peaked for the opening and closing ceremonies. August 12, the day before the opening ceremonies, brought the heaviest load, with 72 arrivals and 66 departures. August 30, the day after the closing ceremonies, was a close second with 54 arrivals and 77 departures.

The AIA built a new terminal to handle all general aviation flights and address the inconvenience of previous passenger security screening locations on the north side of the main terminal.

The new terminal, completed just a month before the games, can simultaneously handle as many as 30 flights each carrying up to 30 passengers. The building houses
a customs office, passenger and baggage security checks, a ticket counter and a cafeteria. It also has parking for 56 cars.

The building includes a waiting room and special crew quarters and has communication links with the Greek Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). AAS said it appreciated this service. The 3,306-sq-ft (390 sq m) building is adequate for regular general aviation flow. Kapeni noted that although the Olympics traffic boosted general aviation movements by 150 percent over the corresponding period last year, the extra load was handled smoothly, so AIA expects to handle the regular flow with aplomb.

Kapeni and AAS officials noted that uncertainty about the organization and handling of landing slot requests and ground-handling reservations during the Olympics had lingered since the beginning of this year. The slot coordinator was assigned to handle general aviation landing slots into the Athens Airport and a ground-handling confirmation number.

The Hellenic Civil Airport Authority imposed a two-hour ground time limit for general aviation aircraft at Athens, meaning that business airplanes had to drop off passengers and position to another airport for parking. Parking at Athens was reserved mainly for head-of-state flights, but Universal Weather & Aviation trip-support specialist Christine Vamvakas–who was temporarily based at the Athens Airport during the Olympics–told AIN these operators tended to file as private operators instead, most likely for security reasons. This meant that many head-of-state aircraft merely dropped off their passengers at Athens and then flew to another airport to park. Aircraft parking therefore did become available for civil GA aircraft during the course of the Olympic Games, she said.

The AAS managing director sent a letter to the Greek Prime Minister praising the AIA, the CAA, the Tanagra Air Force Base commander and others for their work, which allowed AAS to operate effectively during this period.