Differing fortunes on France’s “glamour coast”

posted on 11th June 2018

No fewer than 10 airports in south-east France, less than 80km apart, are able to accommodate business aviation traffic, but the two that jointly promote themselves as Aeroports de la Côte d’Azur, Nice and Cannes, dominate the scene owing to the many special events on their regular social calendar.

Together, Nice and Cannes recorded more than 43,000 biz av movements in 2011 to account for 72% of the region’s total. However, the two airports have had contrasting fortunes during the last five years, explains Umberto Vallino, marketing and statistics manager for Aeroports de la Côte d’Azur, highlighting dramatic shifts in client behaviour during the recession.

Nice, a fully coordinated airport that is open to commercial and scheduled aviation, can take all sizes of aircraft and operates round the clock. Biz av grew to represent 23% of aircraft operations at Nice last year, up from just 10% in 2002. The main peak is from May to September, when two-thirds of business jet users visit because of the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, the Cannes Film Festival and the holiday season.


With a record 30,400 business movements last year, Nice nudged 1% above its previous busiest year in 2007. Cannes Mandelieu, France’s second largest dedicated business aviation airport after Paris Le Bourget, saw 11,300 movements in 2011, which leaves it still 16% below the traffic levels of four years ago.

Cannes is restricted to aircraft of 22 tonnes MTOW and is closed at night. Its core traffic of small and medium-range aircraft has been hardest hit during the downturn and slower to recover.

Nice attracts 51% of the short-range biz av traffic calling at the two airports to Cannes’ 49% but in all other categories, Nice predominates. This is because, even for relatively short-range destinations, operators appear to prefer the larger aircraft that only Nice can accept.

Some 31% of biz av flights from Nice to Moscow and 29% of those to London in 2011 were in large aircraft. These two cities were among the fastest growers overall, increasing by 13% and 16% respectively over 2010. But even much shorter routes to Olbia in Sardinia (with a 25% large aircraft share), Milan (22%), Geneva (20%), Paris (20%) and Zurich (19%) are now attracting more “heavy metal”.

Cannes serves a more limited range of destinations. Although domestic services within France (up 30% in 2011) and flights to Russia/CIS (+18%) and Switzerland (+9%) grew strongly, Germany was static while Italian and UK traffic decreased.

The trend is set to continue, Vallino believes. “We expect around 5-6% business aviation growth in Nice this year and for Cannes we expect a very low growth of 1% due to some runway and airspace capacity restrictions (IFR approach is controlled by Nice). We are working to improve our capacity and attract more biz av traffic,” he says.

Nice opened a dedicated general aviation terminal in 2010 (pictured), but has no hangars owing to space limitations and therefore prioritises externally based operators. However, it is building new long-term parking stands, and will have increased from 51 in 2010 to 72 by 2014.

Cannes, with a single GA terminal, 14 hangars and more than 100 stands, targets “based” operators. The airport is set to complete three new hangars by 2013, the last it can develop because of space constraints.