Lyon airport expands capacity

 - August 29, 2008, 1:39 PM

France’s second-city airport is growing at a fast pace, building on Air France’s “euro-regional” hub. At Lyon Saint Exupéry, the new management team has reshuffled expansion plans, having postponed the addition of another pair of runways.

The airport handled a record 7.32 million passengers last year, up 8.4 percent. That trend has continued, with the airport logging 7 percent growth so far this year. “We are aiming at 10 million passengers in 2012,” said CEO Philippe Bernand. He acknowledged this could prove challenging, as fuel prices remain a concern.

The main source of growth is in international flying, with most passengers flying to other European countries. Air France’s hub accounts for roughly half of the passenger traffic. An official of the flag carrier recently stated that Lyon is still “strategic” for its regional traffic, which includes operations by subsidiaries Régional and Britair. Airport executives see this as their cornerstone. However, they admit Air France traffic is being “diluted.”

Low-cost carriers, which currently account for 6 percent of traffic at the airport, are growing fast. They are expected to account for 25 to 30 percent of the traffic within five years. The number one non-French major airline at the airport is Lufthansa.

To accommodate the increasing number of aircraft movements (last year the number increased by 1.9 percent), the airline originally considered building two more runways–bringing the total to four–and accompanying terminals. Bernand and his team have put that plan on the back burner and now want to increase existing capacity, by expanding the terminal and petitioning for more aircraft movements per hour. The airport is currently allowed a total of 53 takeoffs and landings per hour.
“We are working with ATM organization Eurocontrol to increase this,” Bernand said.
As a result, the airport operator will build new taxiways. To reduce noise and CO2 emissions, continuous descent approaches could be allowed at night.

Traffic is expected to reach 15 million passengers in 2020. To accommodate more than that, the airport needs two more runways. The two additional runways might not be constructed before that year.

One peculiarity at Lyon’s airport is its high-speed train station. A five-minute walk from the main two terminals, the station is supposed to bring passengers from cities such as Avignon, Valence and Mâcon. It does, but not to the extent the airport’s management team would like. Separately, a new rail link with Lyon’s city center in 2010 should improve airport access, which is regularly subject to road congestion.