Spain’s business aviation sector has changed substantially over the last few years with the established operators maintaining their businesses and start-up companies making an impact on a fast-growing market. But they have not been spared by the ongoing financial crisis that has seen an annual 30 percent fall in the number of hours flown. While the big three operators capture most of the market, the smaller and medium-sized companies are holding their own.
Most aircraft registered in Spain belong to individuals who largely put them under management contracts with operators to market the flight hours available when the owner is not using the aircraft. Some management companies including Gestair and TAG also operate their own aircraft, something that the fall in demand has made both risky and costly. The clearest evidence of this is the failure of regular point-to-point corporate flights with VLJs, the main business of the small and medium sized companies.
The present total Spanish fleet is estimated at around 125 aircraft operated by 29 companies. The number of registered aircraft is about 10 percent of the total registered in Europe but the big three companies operating most of them are among the continent’s largest. Gestair entered Spain’s embryonic business aviation field in 1977 when Jesus Macarrón founded Gestiones Aéreas, known as Gestair, and started operations with a Cessna 340. Until the not-too-distant past, the company–still headed by Macarrón and his family–was Spain’s only major operator and its traditional company of reference with its Gestair Private Aviation wing.
Bizjets and Airliners
Still Spain’s leading business aviation group, at present Gestair operates 21 aircraft from seven sites and controls 60 percent of the national air-taxi market in volume of operations. The company also operates three light helicopters and one DC-8 freighter. While about 85 percent of customers are business travelers, Gestair Airlines, under an agreement with flag carrier Iberia, operates two Boeing 757s and three Airbus A340s on long-range routes to South America, including Havana, Santo Domingo and Rio de Janeiro, and to various destinations in Spain and Europe.
Since it was founded in 2000, Executive Airlines has established itself as Spain’s second-ranking business aviation operator. It currently has a fleet of 23 aircraft serving medium, long and extra-long-range routes, especially to the U.S., Latin America, Asia and the Gulf. Its main base is at Barcelona. In 2006 Executive Airlines became the first operator to be selected for Jet Aviation’s Skylliance program, established among charter operators covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Executive Airlines is the only Spanish company so far authorized to operate out of London City Airport, which it does with its Falcon and Citation Bravo. In 2008, the company increased its fleet from 12 to 22 jets, 15 of them Gulfstreams, with eight of the 10 new Gulfstreams. The third-ranking company, with 17 aircraft, is the Spanish subsidiary of Switzerland-based TAG Aviation, which over the last few years has seen exponential growth.
The smaller operators have succeeded from regional bases in specific niche markets, but the 30-percent fall in demand for flight hours and market uncertainty have affected their markets, too, leaving their aircraft too long on the ground. The most notable of the smaller operations include Soko Aviation with four aircraft and two helicopters followed by Jet Personales with five aircraft, Corporate Jets XXI with three, including a Falcon 900C, and JetNova with two aircraft. Jet Ready, based in Valencia, is the first European company to operate a new generation VLJ with an Eclipse 500.