Business intelligence company Avinode has named six European business aviation airports as the “most popular” over the last year. Top is UUWW (Moscow-Vnukovo) followed by LFMN (Nice-Côte d’Azur); LFPB (Paris-Le Bourget); EGGW (London-Luton); LSGG (here at Geneva-Cointrin); and LSZH (Zurich-Kloten).

But are they the top six? And are they in the right order?

Managers from Le Bourget and Nice contest these results and think that, based on aircraft movements, Le Bourget should be in first place, or second at worst.

Avinode says the statistics are not based on aircraft movements but on tracking flight request bookings made directly between brokers and operators. It doesn’t have statistics for the actual number of performed flights, but says they should correlate with the numbers requested. However, “The one exception is that some Russian brokers operate differently and often send more requests than other brokers, resulting in some Russian airport listings being a little inflated. But nonetheless the big picture should still be valid — Moscow is a very hot area for jet charter.”

Conversely, it could be said that using airports’ published business aviation movement statistics would be fine if the definition “business aviation movement” could be agreed.

Moscow-Vnukovo

“I’m not surprised Vnukovo is number one in Europe,” says Ian Ludlow, Jet Aviation’s general director at Vnukovo-3, the airport’s Business Aviation Terminal (Booth 1449). It is managed by VNI, which is responsible for the FBO and handling. Ludlow estimates that Vnukovo-3’s clientele is split 70%-30% in favor of business-vs-leisure movements. Two more hangars have just been completed and the huge ramp area still has plenty of parking capacity. Jet Aviation plans to move into a new maintenance hangar/office facility on November 1. “Hopefully the business will continue to grow, as I believe Vnukovo will continue to be top of the European pile,” says Ludlow. “Moscow’s popularity is many fold: Russia is opening up to external businesses, it’s a good stopping-off point between North America and the Far East, and it has a rich cultural heritage, with fantastic museums, theaters, restaurants and nightlife.

“Most of the traffic through here is European generated, and Europe’s bad patch had a real impact here. The growth is coming from what I’d call offshore traffic.”

Nice-Côte d’Azur

The airport’s new general aviation terminal opened in April 2010 and is shared by Aviapartner, Swissport Executive and Landmark Aviation.

On hearing that Avinode had listed his airport as Europe’s number two, Aviapartner manager Eric Brissy said, “That can’t be right. Le Bourget should be above us. Even if you added nearby Cannes-Mandelieu’s figures of around 11,000 movements to ours, the total would still be less than Le Bourget’s.” Nice Airport’s business aviation movements are around 30,000 annually, whereas Le Bourget’s are more than 50,000.

Nice’s popularity is partially fueled by its long good weather season, which extends from February through November. Nearly every month sees major events being held in the area, including the annual Cannes Film Festival and the legendary Monaco Grand Prix. The Royal Wedding of Prince Albert II of Monaco to Charlene Wittstock on July 2 will bring in even more business jet traffic from around the world.

“In the six winter months we have 700 movements per month, and from May to July around 2,000 monthly. During the month of Ramadan many come here to rest,” says Brissy.

NetJets is responsible 15% of all business jet movements at Nice.

Paris-Le Bourget

Historic Le Bourget is the only dedicated business and general aviation airport in Europe that is legally allowed to handle widebodied aircraft up to VVIP Boeing 747-400s size. The airport is also slot–free, except when the biennial Paris Air Show is being held there.

Steve Gulvin, regional VP sales, Europe, Middle East and Africa for Signature Flight Support, was abashed when told that Le Bourget was only number three in Europe. “That does surprise me and there’s no way Nice has more business movements than Le Bourget. I’m not even sure Vnukovo should be top,” he questioned. Le Bourget’s published movement figures for 2010 were an impressive 56,466, and it had 54,810 in recession-blighted 2009.

Signature Flight Support is the largest FBO provider at Le Bourget, with two FBO passenger terminals and the large ground support equipment to handle the “heavies.”

Gulvin says Signature will be demolishing some of its hangars to make additional ramp space, and that airport owners Aéroports de Paris is looking at freeing up additional land to bring in more tenants, which could mean greater FBO competition amongst the six existing major players.

The newest FBO venture here is a tie-up between Advanced Air Support of Le Bourget (Booth 643) and ExecuJet of Switzerland, where AAS runs the jointly branded FBO/MRO, while ExecuJet widens the customer base.

London-Luton

This is the only UK airport featured in the top six. Given London’s many major airports why is Luton so popular?

Insiders say the answer is simple: it’s a general aviation user-friendly airport open 24/7, and now thanks to a widened M1 motorway is only some 45 minutes’ drive from London’s West End. The airport does have a slot system but it is not as restricted as are many others around the capital.

Three FBOs operate here: Signature Flight Support, Harrods Aviation and Ocean Sky. Ramp space has been a problem at peak times in the past, with some aircraft having to be turned away, but everyone plays this down.

“The Airport Authority bends over backwards to give us additional ramp space when and where we need it, and can generally help us out most of the time. We used four airliner stands with two aircraft on each recently because we were so busy. It’s rare that we have to turn traffic away, but we may struggle in the peak season, depending on the aircraft’s length of stay,” one operator told ShowNews.

Geneva-Cointrin

Here at Geneva, general aviation movements reached just over 38,000 in 2010, a 2,000 increase over 2009. According to the FBOs, business jet traffic has been very irregular this year and the change is being felt by all four based operators — TAG Aviation, Jet Aviation, PrivatPort and RUAG.

Ramp parking and runway capacity is a problem, but aircraft parking charges are to increase dramatically within the next 12 months, which should cut down on long-term stays. “The airport authority realized recently that it hadn’t updated its aircraft parking fees for 29 years. They were last changed to the current four CHF4 ($4.66) per tonne MTOW in 1982!” we were told.

Geneva’s busiest period used to be the two weeks of its annual Motor Show in March. Now EBACE is one of the busiest. The traffic peak lasts for around a week and requests for handling and parking are largely left until three or four days before the event. Then everything goes wild.

The Geneva Air Park, a large state-of-the-art aircraft hangar and technical support facility that opened here two years ago, is very popular and has made aircraft overnight wintering much more comfortable for some business jet crews and passengers. Cold-parked aircraft can be taken into the warmth of the hangar to cut down on deicing costs, then towed out to await fuelling and preflight inspection.

Zurich-Kloten

“Every fifth aircraft landing at Zurich is a corporate jet”, says Nicole Gut, ExecuJet’s European FBO director. Zurich hits this popularity list because of its importance as one of the world’s top banking and financial centers and its proximity to winter sports sites.

ExecuJet and Jet Aviation are the FBO providers here, with Swissport responsible for handling the larger VVIP airliner-sized government jets.

The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) held at nearby Davos-Klosters every January prompts Zurich’s busiest period. The 10-day event is attended by the world’s major Heads of State and some of its wealthiest financiers. For the 2011 WEF ExecuJet handled a third of all traffic, some 330 movements — mostly Global Expresses and Gulfstreams — and pumped more than 450,000 liters of fuel, including a record 160,000 liters in one day. Swissport handled the largest aircraft, which included Boeing 747-400s, 757s, 767s and Airbus A340s.