Sky Services opens first franchise FBO

 - October 18, 2006, 6:31 AM

Italy’s Sky Services is finally making some progress toward establishing its planned network of franchised FBOs. In July it began a full-service handling operation at Rome Ciampino Airport, adding to its existing bases at Naples Capodichino and Milan Linate.

But to establish the operations, the Naples-based company has had to fight its way past a number of legal and administrative obstacles to compete in what is supposedly a liberalized European handling market. It claims that airport companies have refused to respect European Union (EU) law on market access and alleges that Italian authorities will not intervene to enforce the law.

Sky Services now plans to expand its FBO chain to Venice, Olbia and Florence. Venice is the most attainable option because–unlike Florence and Olbia–the city’s airport (Marco Polo) receives more than two million passengers per year so, under the EU’s EC96/67 law on handling market access, it is obliged to allow new handling companies to establish operations.

Building Infrastructure

Nonetheless, according to Sky Services founder and managing director Clemente de Rosa, it could take at least another 24 months for the company to battle its way through the legal minefield to establish the new operations. De Rosa, a lawyer, said that after the airports of Naples and Rome grudgingly granted his company market access, they prevented it from getting the facilities necessary to establish an effective handling operation.

In fact, when it opened for business in Naples in January 2001, the company was allocated just 160 sq ft and no rest room. So in de Rosa’s opinion it can take another three years to secure the infrastructure needed for a new FBO, even after two years spent fighting for the market access that is a company’s right under EU law.

Sky Services is operating the Rome facility as its first franchise. The franchise partners benefit from using the Sky Services brand name and its proprietary management software as well as from the parent company’s expertise and support during the set-up period.

The franchise employs staff directly and invests in the ground support equipment Sky Services specifies. The Italian civil aviation authority, ENAC, grants handling licenses to the franchise holders, based on the established competence of Sky Services. Each year, the franchise pays royalties to Sky Services, according to the profitability of the operation.

At its three locations, Sky Services provides ramp handling services, including refueling, ground power, pushbacks and cabin cleaning. It also assists with flight planning, customs and immigration processing, ground transportation, baggage transfers, hotel reservations and catering.

OvercomingCapacity Problems

At Naples, Sky Services operates from the airport’s main passenger terminal, but it has created a dedicated area for its customers with a crew lounge and briefing room. At both Milan Linate and Rome Ciampino, its operations are located in the general aviation terminal. After some four years of legal battles, the company has finally secured agreement to develop a dedicated FBO with adjoining hangars. This facility will be available under a 20- or 30-year agreement and Sky Services will offer space to foreign business aircraft operators seeking a foothold at Milan Linate Airport, which is probably Italy’s premier business aviation airport.

However, beyond Linate, parking for business aircraft continues to be a major headache in Italy. According to de Rosa, the airport operating companies at Naples and Rome appear to be making life as inconvenient as possible for business aircraft operators by refusing to allocate ramp space close to the terminals.

In theory, European law guarantees business aviation certain airport access rights. But in practice, alleged de Rosa, the airport companies resort to constant stalling tactics when asked for meetings to resolve these issues. He said that ENAC, which has legal authority over the airport companies, refuses to acknowledge the problems.

For example, several years ago airport operating company GESAC was given around $4.8 million to develop a general aviation parking space. It still has not spent this money as agreed and will ultimately have to return the funds to the European Commission if it does not provide the facilities. De Rosa indicated that this situation is immensely frustrating to the Italian business aviation community, particularly because the airport blocks general aviation arrivals at peak times on Fridays and Saturdays on the grounds that there is insufficient parking.

According to Sky Services, Naples currently receives about 3,000 business aircraft movements and 6,000 passengers each year. At Milan Linate, there are some 5,000 movements and 8,000 passengers annually.

De Rosa said Skyservices chose Olbia as a site for one of its FBOs because it attracts a good number of larger business aircraft, especially during the busy summer season. In his view, Florence and Venice also have significant potential and attract a range of traffic throughout the year.