Recent years have seen growing business aircraft traffic to Eastern Europe and farther east into the Balkan and Caucasian states. But airport infrastructure there and an unwillingness to embrace the level of service required by bizav operators and their passengers have meant that the region is still far from user-friendly and potentially unsafe.
This is where handling and flight planning specialist Euro Jet Intercontinental (Booth No. 395) has found its niche since it was founded in 2000. From an operations center in the Czech capital Prague, the company can provide support on the ramp through its English-speaking local representatives at almost 100 locations. Euro Jet has had its staffed trained to the standards of the U.S. National Air Transport Association Safety First program to ensure that they are qualified to take care of clients’ aircraft in environments where ground support equipment can be limited or unsuitable.
For the most part, Euro Jet’s role is to supervise the handling provided by airports that would otherwise deliver low-grade service and do little to spare business aircraft users considerable inconvenience, according to sales director Attila Papai. “This is still a developing region,” he told AIN. “The airports are state-owned and governments are looking for income from them without having to spend money. So staffing is kept on a minimal budget with just enough people to serve the commercial airlines. Business jets are too difficult because they need to change slots and make special requests.”
So Euro Jet has made special arrangements locally for key services such as fuel and catering so customers are not entirely at the mercy of airline suppliers who would have little regard for their needs. “This ensures that they get priority and means a big difference in the way they are treated,” said Papai. The company has arranged for Mercedes cars to provide comfortable rides across the ramps for passengers and crew, who might otherwise have to walk considerable distances in extremely hot or cold conditions.
Crucially, Euro Jet can provide credit for these services, billing operators directly in euros so flight crews do not have to make payments to the airports. Papai explained that since the financial crisis, airports have been reluctant to give credit for handling, so visiting operators have to pay by credit card or cash. Apart from the fact that almost no Eastern European airports will accept American Express cards, other credit cards can be difficult to use in countries like Romania and Albania because the payment terminals are often out of order. This can force crews to have to take stressful taxi rides to withdraw cash from an ATM before they and their passengers can depart.
Local currencies can also be quite confusing for visiting flight crews who may find it hard to understand what they are paying. Generally, prices for handling, catering, fuel and other services are still lower in Eastern Europe than they are in the West.
Eurocontrol traffic data shows that business aviation flights have seen some decline in Eastern Europe, as they have throughout the continent. But traffic levels are still far higher than they were in the Communist era and in some countries, such as Albania, there has been strong growth in the past two years (albeit from a very low base). Throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States, foreign investment in major projects such as the new gas pipeline being built in Azerbaijan has spurred the arrival of business aircraft. Improved relations between the Ukraine and Russia could also now boost traffic, according to Papai.
Other cities that have seen more business aviation activity include Prague, Sofia, Bucharest, Sarajevo, Belgrade, Baku and Kiev. Poor highways in the more remote parts of the region mean long drives for even relatively short distances (perhaps three or four hours to travel 100 miles). This means that even small local airports will increasingly receive business aircraft, and in those cases Euro Jet will send out the nearest representative to meet the flight.
Another growth area has been the increasingly popular vacation destinations throughout the Balkan states of the former Yugoslavia. During the busy summer months, capacity at places such as Zagreb in Croatia and Tivat in Montenegro is seriously stretched, which has kept Euro Jet’s local representatives busy.
Very few airports in the region have dedicated general aviation terminals. Euro Jet has worked hard to provide separate lounges where possible and to ensure that its clients have access to the best available facilities.
One recent breakthrough for Euro Jet was when it was able to crack a handling monopoly at Bucharest’s Baneasa Airport. Last November, it was granted a handling license there, allowing it to compete with Romanian Airport Services.