Increasing bizav traffic brings smaller Euro airports into play

 - August 24, 2007, 11:22 AM

Recent European orders for executive turbine aircraft, including VLJs, signal an influx of executive aircraft into European airspace. Will the Continent’s existing infrastructure be able to accommodate the increasing executive air traffic at a time when scheduled low-cost and holiday charter airlines are also rapidly expanding?

Brian Humphries, CEO of the European Business Aviation Association, voiced concern at EBACE, held in Geneva this spring, about airlines muscling business traffic out of secondary airports, citing London Luton as an example. While executive aircraft have been welcome there until recently, a new slot-control system gives scheduled traffic preference.

When such crowding arises, executive air traffic often moves to smaller airports, which are well aware of the opportunities the current situation offers. Small airports have formed loose associations in several European countries to promote their services for executive aviation. Six Swiss airports with little or no scheduled traffic–Altenrhein, Bern, Buochs, Lugano, Samaden and Sion–have also set up an association with the aim of attracting more attention from pilots flying to nearby destinations.

The group organized a meeting at EBACE to better inform the business aviation community about what these airports offer.  Airports, FBOs and aircraft operators from the U.S., Canada, Russia, Eastern Europe and even China were among the attendees.                                                                                                                                      
The aim of these smaller airports is to offer services that complement the large hubs in their area. For example, Cannes Mandelieu considers itself the Le Bourget of Southern France, recording an average of 12,000 movements annually. It is coordinating with nearby Nice Airport, which is close to saturation at times. While Cannes is limited to aircraft up to the size of a Falcon 900, Nice will accept heavier aircraft but sometimes sends smaller jets to Cannes.

It is generally agreed that location, good service and facilities drive executive aircraft operators’ choice of an airport; accessibility will soon have to be added to these criteria. The equation is not easy to solve in densely populated Europe, as resistance from local residents against increasing air traffic prevents shifting executive traffic to smaller airfields.

The small airports’ efforts to educate executive aircraft operators about what they can offer is a first move to address the threatening capacity gap but, depending on the growth rate of air traffic, authorities at many European locations will soon have to address the question of what capacity they want to reserve for executive aviation at existing airports, or what additional facilities they intend to create to retain the benefits of executive aviation for the business community of their area.