Business aviation in Spain is a modest affair, with an estimated 70 executive jets for private use– very few for a country of 40 million people. While most charter companies operate just a handful of aircraft, Gestair, one of the largest operators in Europe, increasingly dominates the business aviation scene in Spain. Although Spanish business aviation represents only 3 percent of Europe’s market, Gestair is the continent’s third biggest operator (after TAG and Jet Aviation) by fleet size and the number of pilots under contract.
Spain’s executive aviation sector began modestly after the death of the dictator General Franco in 1974 when Barreiros, one of the best known industries of the time, acquired two Rockwell Turbo Commander turboprops. After that, a few companies and private individuals began using other turboprop twins.
The country’s first executive jets were three Dassault Falcon 20s operated by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Spain’s first private jet was a Cessna Citation 500 operated by an engineering and electronics firm, Fábrica Española de Magnetos.
According to the Dirección General de Aviación Civil (DGAC), Spain’s civil aviation authority, today 41 Spanish companies are authorized to carry passengers and cargo by air with commercial authorization for up to 19 passengers and a maximum payload of 10 tonnes (22,046 pounds). Almost all the operators fly fewer than eight aircraft.
Another operator is BKS Air, which flies a Metro III, a Beechjet, an Embraer Brasilia, a Citation II and a Cheyenne 400, with bases in Madrid, Barcelona and Menorca. NAYSA, based in Spain’s Atlantic territory of the Canary Islands, operates four Beech 1900s, while Top Fly, based at Barcelona Sabadell Airport, operates two Metro IIs, a Metro III and a Bell 206 JetRanger. TAS Aviación, based at Seville heliport and Alicante, operates one Citation II, a Beech King Air 350, two Super King Air 200s, three Casa C-212-400s and a Bell 412 and 206.
Helicopter specialists also licensed to carry passengers include Madrid-based Helicsa, which operates an AS 355 F1, an AS 355 N, and an SA 365 C1, four -C2s, a -C3, two each of the N1 and N2, 10 Bell 212s, two Bell 412s, five S-61Ns and four EC 135 T2s. Helisureste, with headquarters in the southeastern city of Alicante and bases in Valencia, Madrid, Seville and Malaga, operates 10 Bell 412s, five Agusta A109E Powers, 13 Agusta A109 A/C/Max, three Bell 206 TwinRangers, six Bell 407s, a Bell 205 A-1 and five LongRangers.
But the jewel in the crown of Spanish business aviation is family-owned Gestiones Aéreas (“managing the skies” in Spanish), known as Gestair. The company is a pioneer of Spanish executive and business aviation, entering the country’s embryonic business aviation field in 1977 when its founder and president, Jesus Macarrón, began operations with a Cessna 340. Two years later he added a Learjet 35 and a Piper Navajo. The company took over Audeli Executive Jet in 1999 and merged with Sky Services Aviation last year. Gestair now has about four-fifths of the market for all executive aviation operations in Spain.
Isabel Macarrón, who assists her father in the aviation division, international relations, aircraft sales and FBO development, said that the opportunity to take over Audeli, at the time Gestair’s major competitor, was a “matter of strategy and synergies and we did not hesitate.” A fully owned Gestair subsidiary, it continues to operate as a separate company from Madrid Torrejón Airport, with a second base at La Coruña. Its fleet of five jets consists of an Embraer Legacy, a Cessna 500 and CitationJet, a Dassault Falcon 20 and 20F.
Macarrón told AIN that the acquisition of Sky Services was a “quick move.” Gestair’s strategy, she said, is “not to buy out the competition in this country. We are a family business and we have to react quickly. The opportunity to buy Sky Services arose and we took it.
Spain’s business aviation market is not as big as [that] in other European countries and the civil aviation authorities do little to promote our industry, so I believe charter operators should work together to educate the target public, not only as far as chartering is concerned, but also with regard to aircraft ownership. We should not fight to get each other’s piece of cake but to make the cake bigger!”
Like Audeli, Sky Services Aviation is also based at Madrid Torrejón and operates six business jets: a Bombardier Global Express, a Learjet 35A and 55B, a Falcon 900EX, a Citation CJ1 and a Challenger 300 that recently joined the fleet. It also operates two Eurocopter EC 120Bs.
In addition to its two operating subsidiaries, Gestair’s own managed fleet consists of 20 aircraft: a Gulfstream IIB, GIV, GV; West-wind II; a pair of Global Expresses; a Falcon 900B, two 2000s and a 50. Its Raytheon Premier I, the first to be delivered to Spain, joins a Beechjet 400A and a King Air 350. Three Citation 525s, a CJ1, a Citation II, a Citation V Ultra and Spain’s only CJ2 complete the fleet. Macarrón confirmed that two more aircraft were due to join the fleet as AIN went to press last month–a Falcon 20-5 and a new G200, the first to operate in Spain. She said that no further aircraft are on order…“yet.”
Isabel Macarrón confirmed that all of the 31 aircraft and two helicopters Gestair operates are managed rather than owned. She explained, “On special occasions, so as not to lose a niche in the charter market, we have bought certain aircraft that we considered key to our fleet. But we always keep in mind to seek an owner and we have always managed to do so.”
In air-taxi operations in Spain the fleet size makes Gestair bigger than any other not only in terms of aircraft available but also in revenue and number of employees. Macarrón said that since Gestair acquired Sky Services, it accounts for “80 percent of the national market.” Gestair now employs 400 people and has seven operational bases: Madrid Torrejón Airport, Barcelona, Palma, Pamplona, La Coruña and Santiago de Compostela.
Isabel Macarrón said that the group, which provides a “round-the-clock service to anywhere in the world,” last year flew more than 14,000 passengers. About 60 percent of flights are to international destinations and 40 percent are within Spain, “none of them with any particular pattern. Gestair provides no regular routes but we do have scheduled flights for air freight.”
A Growing Marketfor Business Aviation
Spain, she said is “still a very young business aviation market representing only about 3 percent of the European market, and still has fewer than 70 jets for private or corporate use. Although 9/11 had a slight effect on the market, Spanish aviation did “not suffer from owners wanting to sell their aircraft but saw an increase in the number of hours flown,” she said. “The number of business aviation users in Spain has risen sharply, and Spain needs to develop general aviation to the level of other European countries or the U.S.”
Isabel Macarrón said Gestair is well on the way to becoming a complete aviation service provider with full FBO facilities. She said it provides “several exclusive VIP lounges, a selection of caterers, crew rest areas and so on,” but deplored the impediments to building private FBO facilities.
There are three other FBO operators active in Spain. They are United Aviation Services, Universal Aviation Spain and General Aviation, which is the smallest of the three.
United general manager Christopher García Die told AIN that the FBO, which has operated in Spain for 25 years, handled 3,377 movements last year. Traffic has increased over the last three years and a 7 percent year-on-year rise is expected for this year.
United Aviation operates FBOs in Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao, and in various other sites such as Ibiza and Palma in ventures with local companies such as Mallorcair, Bilboair, Euraservices, Alicante air services and Ibizair. García said no extensions were currently planned at Madrid Torrejón, “because we are still waiting for news from the civil aviation authorities to know the arrangements for general aviation at Barajas.”
About 20 percent of the aircraft it handles are engaged in flights within Spain, 75 percent within Europe and 5 percent to the U.S. United operates but does not own two Falcon 900EXs and a Falcon 20; one Citation 560, three 550s and a 421; two Beech King Air 200s and one King Air 90; a Hawker; and a Learjet 45.
Universal Aviation Spain was established in 1978, the first of the company’s operations in Europe. Managing director Gonzalo Barona told AIN that the company handles about 1,000 aircraft annually in Madrid, with business growing steadily each year. This year, he said “will be a good year and traffic should increase in the next two to three years.” Universal owns no aircraft and does not have a charter department, but, said Barona, “if one of our clients needs an aircraft we will sub-charter one.”
He explained that Universal came to Torrejón six years ago. “We were told it was for a short period so no one invested much. We are now told that the future for general aviation will be Torrejón. If this is the case we are planning to build a new FBO with a hangar and all types of amenities there.
“The main problem all operators have there is the parking ramp. We have all grown and now there is not enough space for all the aircraft. We have to perform miracles with the ramp to handle most of the aircraft at Torrejón. We have demanded that the authorities provide more ramp space and they tell us that soon we will have it.”