EBACE Convention News

Private handlers break logjam at Italy’s airports

 - November 30, 2006, 6:24 AM

This past year independent Italian business aviation service companies made inroads against government-backed airport handling providers that have long blocked competitors in the battle for market access. Companies such as Argos VIP Private Handling, Universal Weather & Aviation and Sky Services have fiercely contested their rights to provide handling at airports in Milan and Rome–despite the fact that these rights have long been guaranteed under European Union competition rules.

Argos has overcome obstructions inflicted by the existing handling monopoly in its efforts to establish an operation at Rome’s Ciampino Airport. According to the FBO’s business and development manager, Loris Di Filippo, Italy’s established handling monopolies–which are generally backed or owned by airport authorities–have controlled market access by also controlling access to the infrastructure. He told EBACE Convention News that independent firms have had to cope with the conflict of interest that exists when a monopoly service provider has full control over the existing airport infrastructure.

Nonetheless, by investing in its own facilities and equipment for numerous aircraft types, Argos has established a reputation for personalized VIP handling for corporate, celebrity, head-of-state and humanitarian flights. In addition to its operation at Ciampino, the company also arranges handling and support at airports elsewhere in Italy and in Europe.

Argos currently uses lounges and conference rooms in Ciampino’s general aviation terminal; however, it plans to build its own premises which will include both passenger and crew lounges. A full-service FBO, Argos provides flight planning, handling for a range of aircraft sizes, engine starts, aircraft cleaning and line maintenance, as well as arranging refueling. It assigns a dedicated handling team to each aircraft to meet it as it taxis toward the general aviation area and remain at its disposal until it departs.

Last year, both Sky Services and Universal Weather & Aviation secured full handling licenses in Milan and Rome. But since then they have had to contend with obstacles created by local aviation officials and airport managements to prevent their actually starting operations.

For the past 18 years, Universal Aviation Italy has operated under a supervisory license whereby its clients’ needs have been met by fully licensed handlers. The company (Booth No. 1020) is now approved to serve its clients directly at Linate (Milan) and Ciampino (Rome) airports–both of which are key business aviation gateways to the country’s two main cities.

Sky Services has established its franchised operations at both Linate and Ciampino, and it plans to create a network of FBOs at other Italian airports, building on its initial operation at Naples Capodichino Airport, where it plans to establish a separate business aircraft parking ramp by the summer of 2007. The company is also lobbying for permission to build an executive terminal at Naples, and has ambitions to establish bases at Venice in the northeast of Italy and at an undisclosed location in southern France.

At the end of January, Sky Services was able to break a 40-year-old fuel monopoly at Linate Airport. The independent company has faced protracted legal and bureaucratic battles to establish its right to handle business aircraft at Italian airports and has now defeated attempts by Milan airport authority ATA to prevent it selling fuel directly to those aircraft.

Sky Services managing director Clemente de Rosa explained that it took him two years to win the right to sell fuel, despite a guarantee provided in European competition laws. He also told of a tactic employed by competitor ATA, whose refueling trucks physically intercepted his crew on the ramp as it was starting to refuel customers from its ExxonMobil truck. The ATA crew was offering free jet-A. In response, the Italian chapter of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association published an advisory to its members suggesting they fly down to Linate and fill up their tanks for free. That lasted only two days.

Commenting on future plans, de Rosa said SkyServices is seeking permission to build its own executive terminal at Linate.