Europe’s biggest business aviation market has struggled this year, but Lyon-Bron appears to have struck a winning formula and has ramped up its investment programme
France saw a 1.7% increase in business aviation departures in the first quarter of 2012, to 24,945, but the second quarter saw a strong reversal, by 5.3% to 30,512 departures, according to figures collated by analyst WingX Advance (see also pages 46-47). This mirrored the trend, anecdotally confirmed by charter operators, of worsening Q2 levels of industry activity in Switzerland, Italy and Spain.
French remains Europe’s leading business aviation market, and Paris-Geneva, Nice-Geneva and Paris-Cannes all appear in the top 10 charter routes. Analysis of private flying patterns show Paris-Geneva and Nice-Geneva again featuring in the top 10, together with Nice-Moscow, the biggest European route of all, and London Luton-Paris Le Bourget.
Overall French business aviation departures were measurably higher only in February (+2.3%) and March (+3.8%) during the first eight months of 2012, with July a whisper ahead at +0.1%. Otherwise the year-to-year trend was downward.
However, the consultant’s analysis of individual airports shows significant differences among the French market leaders. Paris Le Bourget lost 5.7% of its 2011 traffic in the first half of this year and Cannes was 3.6% down, while Nice edged up by 2.6% compared with the previous year.
The big winner was Lyon-Bron Airport, which recorded an increased in business aviation traffic of 7.4% in the first half of 2012 compared with the same period last year.
This represented a welcome turnaround following a decrease of 6.1% to 6,308 business movements in full-year 2011 (counting both arrivals and departures), a reflection of less favourable conditions in the French and wider European economy. However, Lyon-Bron had recorded 68,091 overall movements in 2011 including scheduled carriers, a growth of 1% over the preceding year.
The winter season is generally busier for Lyon-Bron, says airport director Eric Dumas, because of the airport’s proximity to the Alps. A particular spike occurs over the Russian Orthodox Christmas period, and 4 January was the biggest single day this year so far, with 57 GA movements.
If the upturn continues, total activity through the airport this year could get back close to the record level of 69,984 movements achieved in 2008.
The top year for business movements (7,191) was 2007, so like most European airports Lyon-Bron has a little way to go to regain its pre-recession peak. But an interesting and potentially lucrative rebalancing of the airport’s GA traffic has become apparent.
The top domestic French airports to and from which Lyon-Bron customers travel are Paris Le Bourget and Cannes, while in Europe the leading individual destinations are still short-haul: Geneva, Milan and Zurich. Outside the EU, Moscow and Kiev head the list.
The mix of domestic and international flights is changing, however, with international traffic reaching half of the total in 2011 compared with just 34% the year before. The share of non-EU traffic increased from 20% in 2010 to 32% in 2011.
These figures align justify the airport’s effort to increase its visibility among North American operators by joining the NBAA, the first French airport to do so.
The aircraft profile is changing in line with the longer sectors customers are now flying. Lyon-Bron recorded a sharp rise in mid-range and long-range jets (up 10.8% and 9.4% respectively) in 2011. By contrast, short-range aircraft saw a 15.9% decline.
“This trend towards large business jets confirms that we need to adapt our infrastructure to meet the requirements and expectations of our customers. That’s why we have stepped up our investment programme,” Dumas says.
A dedicated business aircraft maintenance facility will be completed by the end of this year and a second new hangar, designed to accommodate aircraft up to BBJ3 level, is scheduled to come into service by January 2013.
Lyon-Bron also decided to groove its runway in compliance with FAA standards – again the first French airport to do so – and plans to refit its FBO.
“Business aviation traffic remains low, reflecting the economic situation. However, with all our investments this year we are confident for 2013,” Dumas says.
“Our positioning as the only business airport in the Rhône-Alpes region sets us at an advantage. Our professional and efficient team and cutting-edge facilities meet both passengers’ service expectations and and the most demanding safety requirements.”
Italy’s new taxation policy on aircraft parking is also likely to increase Lyon-Bron’s appeal this winter, Dumas concludes. “We are more than ever an alternative platform for customers who wish to park for a long period, and will be pleased to host them during their vacation in the Alps.”