Spain makes room for new bizav companies

 - March 28, 2007, 5:37 AM

Spain traditionally has lagged in Europe’s business aviation market. Although its fleet of around 80 jets and 42 turboprops for corporate or private use is the continent’s fifth biggest, Gruppo Gestair, Europe’s third largest operator, dominates and Spain commands only about 3 percent of the continent’s market. But over the last two years the sector has made a great leap forward, recording 15 percent growth in 2005, doubling the 6- to 8-percent growth it logged in the previous few years.

Last year’s tallies are not yet available, but industry professionals believe that the appearance on the scene of new market entrants, the rapid progress of the country’s largest operators and the popularity of fractional ownership make prospects look good for substantial growth in the next few years.

The trend is for new entrants to operate from cities located farther away from corporate aviation’s traditional market, dominated by Madrid. In May 2005 the newest operator, Jetnova de Aviación Ejecutiva, was established as the first business aviation company in the southeastern province of Murcia. Headquartered in Santiago de la Ribera, the company operates a Cessna Citation CJ2 and a Citation XLS, both new, from Murcia/San Javier airport in a 24/7 year-round service.

According to a spokesman for the company, Jetnova expects to take delivery of a second Citation XLS next month and a third in November. Four Mustangs will join the fleet in 2008. Its goal is to attract an industrial clientele in an area where executives experience more difficulty in reaching other parts of the country by scheduled flights than their colleagues in other regions of Spain.

Jets Personales, the other new major market entrant, claims it is the country’s first private jet operator to own all its aircraft. Launched in December 2004, the operator is based at Madrid’s Torrejon airport, where it has an FBO and a fleet of five aircraft.

The exclusive representative of Bombardier in Spain, the company expects its fleet to increase to at least eight aircraft by the middle of this year, including its first Global Express next month, and to 17 by 2009 following an agreement to buy nine aircraft from the manufacturer over the next few years. These could include the new Challenger 605, which succeeds the 604 and is due to enter service in the third quarter. Jets Personales’s facilities include two VIP lounges, a presidential room, a round-the-clock, chef-run kitchen providing personalized menus, an operations center, full handling and a maintenance team.

Among the other new entrants are Soko Aviation, which entered the scene after a takeover by Pedrag Jevremovic of Ibicenca de Aviación. At the end of 2004 it began operations from Madrid’s Torrejon de Ardoz Airport with a Dassault Falcon 20, joined six months later by a Cessna CJ2 and at the end of 2005 by a CJ1 and two Eurocopter EC 130s.

In January last year another new company, TAG Aviation España, started operations in Spain with a Falcon 900.

Big Operators Get Bigger
Despite the appearance of new operators, Gestair remains the country’s leading business aviation group and has continued to grow, with its fleet now standing at 32 business jets. Founded by president Jesus Macarrón in 1977 with a Cessna 340, the company employs 420 people, including more than 100 pilots, and represents about 60 percent of Spain’s total business aviation market. In 2005 the company carried 16,140 passengers in 13,450 movements, its executive aviation operation netting it ?69 million ($89.7 million), a 30-percent hike over the previous year.

According to a Gestair spokeswoman, last year the group took delivery of a Hawker 800XP, a Falcon 20, a Gulfstream 200 and a Learjet 55 and is “currently working on acquiring several other jets.” About 60 percent of all flights are to international destinations; the remainder are to domestic destinations. Gestair serves no regular routes but operates scheduled flights for air freight. About 85 percent of customers are business travelers. It operates from seven bases: Madrid Torrejon, Barcelona, Palma de Majorca, Burgos, Pamplona, La Coruña and Santiago de Compostela.

Charter Catches On
Executive Airlines, which started operations in 2000, has become Spain’s second-ranking operator with a fleet of 11 aircraft, four of them owned. Since the end of 2005 the Barcelona-based company has taken delivery of a Citation XLS, a Gulfstream G100, G200 and G550.

Meanwhile, one of its three CJ1s, previously based at Palma de Majorca, has left the fleet. Two of the aircraft, a Falcon 100 and a Falcon 200, both based in Málaga, are operated in Andalucia, southern Spain, in commercial cooperation with independent operator Mayoral Executive Jet, with which Executive Airlines has a close working relationship.

A company spokesperson told AIN that Executive Airlines expects to add four midsize and long-range jets to the fleet in the first half of this year. The company last year became the first operator to be selected for Jet Aviation’s Skyalliance program, currently being established among operators covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and participates in the program with four jets.

As established Spanish executive aviation operators boost their activity and new companies enter the scene, NetJets has made spectacular growth by changing the longstanding view that fractional ownership cannot succeed in Spain.

By the middle of last year, the company had more than 100 clients and expected that number to be around 115 by the end of last year. It expects to add another 80 by the end of this year. At the end of 2005 it recorded 5,558 flying hours for Spanish clients, a year-on-year increase of 34 percent. By the middle of last year it had reached 4,850 flight hours–700 more than in all of 2004. The company forecasts that its numbers for the second half of last year will reveal a substantial increase in business.