FBO changes abound at Le Bourget

 - October 17, 2006, 12:00 PM

FBOs at Paris Le Bourget Airport, which makes a strong claim to be Europe’s biggest dedicated business aviation gateway, are experiencing growth with a steady increase in business aviation movements. At the same time competition is heating up, with the arrival of a new operator, a merger between two existing bases and the prospect of a completely new executive terminal.

Le Bourget Airport chief executive Michel de Ronne told AIN he is confident that improvements already made under the 12-year refurbishment plan will increase traffic, which at its peak in the early 1990s amounted to 70,000 movements a year. After the post-9/11 economic downturn, traffic in 2002 and 2003 stabilized at around 55,500 movements, rising to more than 57,000 movements last year. De Ronne expects similar growth for this year.

Le Bourget currently receives arrivals and departures to and from some 180 airports in France, more than 230 in the rest of Europe and about 270 cities elsewhere. The airport’s FBOs between them account for about 130,000 passengers annually.

According to de Ronne, the traffic upturn was first seen at the beginning of last year. “One factor was the addition in May last year of 10 new countries to the European Union, mostly small east European nations that did not have good regular airline links to the main west European countries but that were expanding business there. This encouraged business aviation activity to European business centers, including Paris.”

The Aero Services FBO, acquired last year by Portuguese air transport and maintenance group Omni Aviaçao e Technologia from major French media group Vivendi, has also experienced a traffic upturn, with the average number of aircraft handled each month increasing from around 250 to 300.

According to handling manager Jean Rabourdin, having sufficient space to meet customer demand at Le Bourget is a continuing problem for Aero Services, whose facility was completely refurbished in June to include a new conference room and crew lounge with Internet access, satellite tv and a complimentary bar.

The Aero Services facility also includes a VIP passenger lounge, and its 70,000-sq-ft ramp can accommodate aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 747, while the adjoining 17,545-sq-ft hangar can comfortably house a Boeing Business Jet. Special services for crew include dish washing and the use of refrigerators to store perishable foods.

New Hangars and Terminals

By year-end Le Bourget’s main hangars are due to be rebuilt, and construction of a new main executive terminal should also be complete. This new terminal–due to open for business in March–will house two FBOs and/or executive charter operators. However, de Ronne insisted that no decision has been made yet regarding the companies that will occupy the premises.

Unijet president and CEO Dannys Famin confirmed his company abandoned its decision to apply for the site as there is no hangar nearby and little prospect Aeroports de Paris (AdP) will grant permission to add one near the building. For the time being shortage of space is not a problem, but it could be in the future. Unijet’s charter fleet of two Falcon 900EXs, one Falcon 50, a Hawker 800XP and two Citation CJ2s will grow following delivery of two Citation CJ3s next year and in 2007 and a new Falcon 7X in 2008. Famin said that, along with other Le Bourget operators, Unijet is doing well, despite the continued economic downturn in the major European economies of France and Germany.

Universal Aviation France customer relations manager André Smitshuijzen said his FBO was not interested in the site, either.

Dassault Falcon Service (DFS), which in addition to handling services also provides charter flights and maintenance, is also dealing with a space problem. Director of FBO and executive flight operations Jean-Louis Cahovic told AIN this is the most serious challenge the company faces because “aircraft are getting bigger and bigger, causing parking problems and limiting our development.”

DFS manages a Falcon 200 and a Falcon 900 for Dassault Aviation, as well as four Falcon 50s and a Falcon 900EX for corporate owners. Now it has given up its plan to increase from 10 to 14 the number of large business aircraft able to park simultaneously on its ramp and is rethinking its options. The firm has already leased the adjoining premises of recently bankrupt operator Occitania, but it still needs more room to grow.

Nonetheless, the Dassault subsidiary, which currently handles about 2,200 aircraft annually, has completely reorganized its FBO complex at Le Bourget and relocated its front-end handling operations to a dedicated building previously reserved for VIPs. To make room it has moved all its administrative, financial and computer services to a nearby state-of-the-art, three-story building that also includes meeting rooms and a restaurant for almost 600 employees.

But the FBO now is the subject of a “complete rethink” to better meet passenger and crew needs. The present reception area is to be dedicated to arriving and departing passengers, while a supplementary area will be reserved for VIP passengers. Adjacent to the operations room is a new crew lounge with Internet access. Flight-planning offices will be easy for passengers and crews to access. Tightened security now restricts ramp access to fully screened customers.

BBA Group subsidiary Signature Flight Support Le Bourget no longer needs more space since its August purchase of PrivatAir’s Le Bourget FBO. The deal provides an additional terminal, nine more hangars and a large aircraft parking ramp. Managing director Louis Demarque told AIN that this sort of merger is probably indicative of a trend toward consolidation among FBOs. “In the next few years there will be only three or four big FBOs plus some smaller units, something that is not welcome in France as Le Bourget is already 80 percent made up of non-French companies.” Signature will now modernize its extended premises to meet the new security requirements.

The Security Net Tightens

This year Le Bourget started implementing its security improvement program. This involves daily inspection of the perimeter, strengthened enclosures around the airport and around individual company facilities, limitation of the number of access points to the airport and stricter controls on entry into reserved zones.
FBOs are responsible for making their own arrangements to their sites. Universal Aviation’s Smitshuijzen said that one effect of the new safety rules is to ban private vehicles from the ramp.