Monaco Air welcomes westbound Europeans

 - August 1, 2007, 9:54 AM

Operators of aircraft flying across the Atlantic to destinations in the American West and Midwest are wasting time and money by making technical stops at popular transit points in the northeastern U.S., according to Duluth, Minn. FBO Monaco Air. The company has launched a campaign to persuade European operators in particular to consider sticking to the Great Circle Route, rather than deviating south to refuel and clear customs and immigration at airports such as Bangor, Maine.

According to research conducted by Monaco Air, operators could save themselves around an hour’s flight time and between $3,000 and $4,000 in operating costs by transiting via Duluth rather than Bangor. From July 1 through October 31, the FBO is offering an 80-cent discount on a gallon of fuel when more than 2,000 gallons are purchased; that discount increases to 90 cents if the operator uses a Shell credit card. Flight crew get a $100 American Express gift certificate. (For more details see

Monaco Air’s research sampled round-trip journeys between London, Paris, Geneva and Rome and the popular western destinations of Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver and the Los Angeles-area airport Van Nuys. These were based on a Gulfstream IV-SP cruising at 450 knots and with a range limit of 4,412 nm.

Handling Expedited

Duluth also promises faster technical stops–24 minutes, including the time it takes to clear U.S. customs and immigration checks. The FBO claimed that equivalent technical stops at Bangor take 40 minutes or more.

Staff at the Bangor Aviation Services FBO told AIN that technical stops generally take 35 to 40 minutes to complete. They said that this can vary with the size of the aircraft, but added that turnarounds are rarely delayed by the volume of traffic being handled at the airport (which now includes numerous U.S. military widebody charters carrying troops to and from the war in Iraq).

Currently at Duluth, customs and immigration officials are willing to complete their processing at the customer’s aircraft. In 2009, Duluth International Airport will begin construction of a new 12,000-sq-ft executive terminal that will have its own customs and immigration facilities.

This summer Monaco Air is expanding and resurfacing its ramp area to 300,000 sq ft. Next year it will start building a 28,000-sq-ft hangar with 28-foot-high doors.
Christine Vamvakas, a trip support specialist with flight planning group Universal Weather & Aviation, confirmed that a lot of west-east transatlantic traffic opts to make technical stops on the U.S. East Coast or in Canada. She indicated to AIN that the choice often comes down to customer preference factors, such as the desire for the first part of the journey to be relatively short, leaving a longer second leg during which passengers can sleep.

“The Great Circle Route isn’t always the most efficient route,” said Vamvakas. “It depends greatly on weather, NAT [North Atlantic ATC] tracks, the range of the aircraft, turbulence and so on. Really what it comes down to is client preference and what is best for their flight.”

The main 10,000-foot runway at Duluth has a Category II instrument landing system. The airport, located at the western edge of Lake Superior, is home to a U.S. Air Force squadron of F-16 fighters and, as a result, high priority is placed on keeping it open during winter months. According to the airport’s operations department, only rarely does it have to close even during the worst blizzards.

Similarly, staff at Bangor Aviation Services said that that airport is hardly ever closed by weather. The main 11,437-foot runway there has a Category III ILS.

Operators interested in exploiting the Great Circle Route need to be mindful of which airports can offer U.S. customs and immigration clearance. This factor excludes several potential options across the northern U.S. states west of Minnesota.

One other option, however, is Hector International Airport in Fargo, N.D., with its 9,000-foot runway. The Fargo Jet Center FBO is receiving increasing volumes of technical-stop traffic– both traveling west from Europe and east from Asia.

Fargo Jet Center’s two-story atrium terminal building is undergoing renovation and will be finished early in the third quarter. The FBO has four hangars covering a total of 100,000 sq ft.

Even aircraft that have the range to fly directly from Europe to cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver can save time by entering the U.S. via a smaller airport, because customs and immigration procedures can take much longer at major airports that are swamped in international airline traffic. Van Nuys Airport does not have customs and immigration facilities.