Paris Air Show

Paris 2011: Le Bourget looks to tap bizav’s bounceback

 - June 20, 2011, 9:10 PM

            Paris Le Bourget Airport is pressing ahead with the second phase of its 20-year modernization and development plan, having had to delay it two years ago in response to the financial crisis. The first phase of the program was completed in 2009, and this improved several key buildings and provided better access.

            Included in the second phase are plans for a new four-star hotel on-site that would be built by Le Bourget owner Aéroports de Paris (ADP), with financing provided by the Groupe Ségur real estate venture. The hotel will be managed by the Marriot chain and is due to open in time for the 2013 Paris Air Show.

            At a press conference last month, ADP chief executive Pierre Graff confirmed that some 258,000 square feet of space is to be made available to companies wanting to expand on this site. The airport authority wants to further develop Le Bourget as a hub for business aviation companies, and especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

            Le Bourget, which was once the French capital’s main air transport gateway before the opening of Charles de Gaulle Roissy and Orly airports, has since become the busiest business aviation airport in Europe. After seeing a severe drop in traffic following the financial crisis of 2008, activity bounced back to grow by 3 percent in 2010. The first quarter of 2011 saw growth increasing to almost 5 percent compared with the same period last year.

According to Le Bourget managing director Michel de Ronne, traffic at what remains Europe’s busiest business aviation gateway, hit a low point in 2009 when movements fell 11 percent on the previous year to 57,900. In the boom year of 2007, the total had been as high as 66,800 movements.

Le Bourget’s renewal and expansion project, due to run through 2023, is an integral part of the French government’s major strategic long-term urban development plan for the greater Paris area. Decisions taken in consultation with elected local authorities include the long awaited and much needed improvement of public transportation. This will connect Le Bourget to the 80-mile automated rapid transport system planned to connect the French capital’s north and west suburbs from Charles de Gaulle Roissy Airport to the La Défense business district. Two stations will serve the town of Le Bourget–one adjoining the present regional line (RER) and the other at the airport near the Air and Space Museum.

Despite the recent downturn, Le Bourget’s existing FBOs seem to have weathered the storm. Several of the companies, which provide high-caliber ground handling and support to business jet operators and their passengers, have been upgrading facilities, or plan to do so, as part of the wider effort to make the airport fit for the 21st century.

Advanced Air Support (part of the Jet Services Group, which is owned by Groupe Ségur) last October opened a joint state-of-the-art FBO at Le Bourget with ExecuJet Europe. Jet Services invested $1.4 million in modernizing the 1923 building and now it is spending a further $13 million to improve its Uni Air Entreprise maintenance operation at the site and add another pair of hangars.

The refurbished facility now features two passenger lounges and a pilot lounge, as well as a separate relaxation room for crew and two bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, plus a snooze-room. The facility also offers a wireless Internet connection, satellite TV, catering, parking, meeting rooms and a complete concierge service. Adjoining the building are a 172,200-sq-ft hangar and 193,750 sq ft of ramp space. AAS averages 25 to 30 movements daily, up from just six before Jet Services acquired it.

Several other FBO developments are already under way at Le Bourget. Unijet, based in Le Bourget for 40 years, plans to inaugurate its new FBO early next year. The eco-friendly terminal and FBO will adjoin Unijet’s 44,789-sq-ft half of the “K1” Jacqueline Auriol hangar. According to company owner Dannys Famin, the economy, which since 2007 has led to a 28-percent decrease in Unijet flights–mostly in the charter and air ambulance sectors–is making a gradual recovery with a 10-percent increase in business in the first quarter of 2011.

Landmark Aviation, a newcomer to Le Bourget, is building a new VIP FBO with ultra-modern facilities that feature a very large hangar and private parking able to accommodate business jets up to the size of A340-600 widebodies. The company, which has more than 40 facilities in the U.S. and Canada, plans to update the VIP facility at the “H0” building, which is expected to be operational at the end of 2012. According to general manager Denis Bourgois, Landmark considers the present site as the center of its expanding FBO network in Europe.

Dassault Falcon Service already has modernized its executive terminal with a lounge that directly overlooks its adjoining the ramp area. The facility is about to get further upgraded with the modernization of the flight crew rest area, with new high-tech armchairs. The exterior of the building is also getting a makeover, featuring a new paint job in Dassault colors.

In response to operator demand, DFS is increasing the size of its weekend shift inside the terminal to support customers and also is extending the FBOs opening hours on Saturdays and Sundays to 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.). Ramp staff continue to be available around the clock.

In 2010, DFS handled 5,186 movements, representing a modest recovery on the recent low point of 5,017 movements in 2009 (a drop of more than 2,300 from 7,392 in 2008). The first quarter of 2011 (typically a quiet period) saw 1,384 movements. DFS managing director Bernard d’Yvoire said this by no means indicates that the business aviation downturn is over, but it does appear to be a promising improvement, especially given the increased prevalence of larger jets in the movement mix.

Dubai-based JetEx Flight Support is the first Middle East executive air charter company to establish permanent operations in Europe with its FBO at Le Bourget. The terminal is close to the airport’s main entrance. The layout of the facility’s four separate large VIP lounges enables privacy for different groups and within groups where this is appropriate according to Middle East cultural practices. The facilities include a prayer area, conference rooms, Internet access, showers and crew rest rooms. The site provides parking space for up to 30 aircraft and is claimed to be the only FBO at Le Bourget able to accommodate the Airbus A380. 

About 30 percent of JetEx’s client base at Le Bourget is from the Middle East, 40 percent from Europe and 10 percent from North America, with the remaining 20 percent from other areas.  According to JetEx, traffic is now recovering, with an average of 25 movements daily in January and February representing about 20 percent of the airport’s total traffic for those periods. About half of the movements at JetEx involve NetJets flights following an agreement concluded a year ago with the fractional ownership provider.

Apart from minor changes, Universal Aviation France has no immediate plans for further updating its FBO, which was recently refurbished. According to managing director Sandrine Jackson, activity is now recovering slowly from the crisis. The company has a new agreement with Jet Aviation to establish a line maintenance and AOG support operation at the airport and is employing Jet Aviation personnel for the task.

Signature Flight Support continues to reinvest in its facility with new ground equipment, including de-icing units, capable of servicing all types of aircraft. Signature’s regional vice president for Europe and the Middle East Steve Gulvin told AIN its facilities are very modern and have seen significant investment over the past few years. “We will continue to invest where appropriate and are looking at extending our current ramp footprint in 2011,” he said. Last year, Signature introduced a Flight Support Service, which coordinates handling, fuel and third-party requests at all business and general aviation airports within France. All requests are coordinated via its operations at Le Bourget.

All of Signature’s Le Bourget employees, including management, recently underwent the company’s “Service with a Leading Edge” program, which the company has organized in partnership with the Ritz Carlton. The FBO has also put in a dedicated kids area for younger customers.

Also part of the FBO pack at Le Bourget is Escadrille Mercure. This is a sister company to executive charter operator Aero Jets Darta

Finally, at the reserved zone in the northeast of the airport, U.S.-based X Jet is establishing what it says will be an exclusive VVIP “Members Only” club and hangar for a number of select aircraft owners, mirroring its venture in Denver, Colorado. The project is due for completion at the end of 2012.