EBACE Convention News

France is more than just Le Bourget

 - November 30, 2006, 6:34 AM

When thinking of the French business aviation scene, most people would probably immediately call to mind Paris Le Bourget. But France also boasts several other general aviation gateways that are enhancing business aviation facilities. Six of those airports are exhibiting together at EBACE for the second time under the banner “French Business Airports.”

Cannes-Mandelieu, the country’s second-ranking business and private aviation airport after Le Bourget, continues to be a focal point for activity on France’s wealthy Mediterranean coast. In fact, Cannes shares its business aviation activity with neighboring Nice, just 11 miles west along the French Riviera. Both airports are owned and operated by the Nice-Cote d’Azur Chamber of Commerce and share the same airspace.

But while Nice has 24-hour operations, Cannes is restricted to operating from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the winter and 8 a.m. to sundown in the summer (up to 9:45 p.m. in June). Nice’s longest runway is 9,711 feet and has no limit on aircraft weight. Cannes, however, is restricted to a 5,280-foot runway and can take nothing heavier than 22 metric tons (48,500 pounds–just barely including Bombardier’s Challenger 604).

Cannes opened to commercial flights in 1932. Its runway was lengthened after World War II and in 1967 the airfield was designated a general aviation airport, becoming the “Le Bourget of the south.” In recent years, according to head of marketing Umberto Vallino, Cannes’ aircraft traffic increased steadily from 8,169 movements in 2000 to 10,988 last year.

In Vallino’s view, however, it is noise, not aircraft weight, that is the main problem as the airport’s environmental charter pledges to reduce noise, air and water pollution. The charter includes limits on night flights and prohibits runway lengthening. Movements at Cannes also are limited to four takeoffs and four landings an hour.

The chamber of commerce is considering a proposal to build as many as four new hangars, but Vallino warned that the airport will not expand indefinitely and traffic will remain at around 10,000 movements annually. “We are concentrating on maintaining the quality of our FBO service and want to do everything possible to become Europe’s best FBO in 2007,” he told EBACE Convention News.

Another south of France business airport, the privately owned Le Castellet located 34 miles from Marseilles, France’s second-largest city, is trying to cash in on the failure of Marseille Provence Airport to develop a business aviation stronghold. In 1999, Execlis, owned by British Formula-1 auto racing tycoon Bernie Ecclestone, purchased the airport and the nearby Paul Ricard racing circuit. Excelis refurbished the airport and re-opened it in January 2002.

Le Castellet boasts a full-service FBO, offering flight planning facilities and a business center. Parking is available in four hangars. Nearby there are three- and four-star hotels, one of the latter possessing a Eurocopter Ecureuil AS 355N helicopter which is available for charter.

The airport’s 5,741-foot, lighted runway can take aircraft up to the size of the Airbus Corporate Jetliner. Although Le Castellet has the advantage of 24-hour operations, its geographical location leaves it susceptible to the strong southeast Mistral winds.

Following the installation last October of a new DME landing aid, crews are no longer required to get advance clearance to arrive in IFR conditions. This has eliminated a previous requirement that they conduct a daytime checkout flight before being granted landing permission. According to a Le Castellet spokeswoman, traffic rose by 40 percent from 4,486 movements in 2003 to 6,302 in 2005. The airport expects to handle 7,000 movements this year.

Lyon Bron (Booth No. 1235), which serves the major industrial Rhone-Alpes region of France, last year saw an 8-percent increase in business aviation activity, reaching 5,428 movements, up from 5,027 the previous year and 4,801 in 2004. The extra growth in business aircraft traffic over the last few years is attributed to the upgrade of the full-service FBO that the airport announced at last year’s EBACE show.

The airport is open daily all year from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., but these hours can be extended on request. According to the Bron management, it takes one minute for a passenger alighting from an aircraft to reach the terminal and another minute to get into a taxi. Downtown Lyon, one of France’s three largest cities, is about eight miles away.

Avignon, north of the Marseilles/Nice coastal axis and south of the Lyon industrial region, is a convenient gateway to the beautiful Provence region and takes traffic from Cannes and Nice when these busy airports are saturated. The airport has a 6,168-foot runway.

After a dip in traffic in 2003 to just over 1,800, activity picked up in 2004 with 1,964 movements–apparently attracted by the modernized passenger and pilot lounges that were part of a wider FBO upgrade that also included new hangars. According to commercial development manager Jean-Pierre Stagnaro, movements increased again, to 2,343 last year and he believes the trend will continue this year.

Pays d’Ancenis, which belongs jointly to 29 small towns in western France, is located at Aeropole, a 222-acre aviation business park. It lies 22 miles east of the major port and industrial city of Nantes and 31 miles west of the tourist city of Angers.

Airport director Serge Chevillard told EBACE Convention News that the airport’s main aim is to be the business aviation center for the region. “Ancenis is well placed geographically to assume this role,” he said. [Chevillard is also president of the European Business Aviation Association.]

In 1996 the Pays d’Ancenis runway was extended to 3,937 feet and the airport is awaiting a decision this year on approval to install IFR all-weather approach aids and to further lengthen the 82-foot wide runway to 4,920 feet. The site also has almost 100,000 sq ft of apron and nearly 13,000 sq ft of hangars.

However, there has been only a very modest increase in business aviation traffic at Ancenis, from just 136 movements in 2000 to 243 last year, due to the lack of facilities. Chevillard said a number of operators and companies are keen to come to Ancenis when the runway and equipment are ready. He expects a decision on these investments this year.

Le Touquet Cote d’Opale, which in July celebrates 70 years of operations, is just a few hundred yards from the fashionable beach resort of Le Touquet, one of northern France’s prime vacation and conference center locations. Thanks to a 6,068-foot, DME-equipped runway, the airport can receive all types of aircraft up to the size of a Boeing Business Jet. It is open year-round, normally from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and outside these times by request.

Airport director Jean-Jacques Fromentin said business aviation traffic at Le Touquet in the last three years has increased about 10 percent annually, reaching about 1,200 movements last year.