France’s second-busiest commercial airport—over 14 million passengers in 2019—continues to be popular for business aviation. The airport saw 6,065 business departures between March 1 and Aug. 31, a decline of 42.4% on 2019 numbers. Due to its proximity to Monaco, it is the principality’s de facto airport and there are three companies offering helicopter shuttle services from adjacent to the FBO. In a 2018 survey, customers of UK broker PrivateFly voted its approach the third most picturesque in the world.
Geneva Cointrin International Airport
Credit: Mike Vines
The 35.9% year-on-year decline in bizjet movements at Geneva includes all those aircraft that usually fly in for EBACE, Europe’s biggest business aviation conference. It was one of the many events to fall victim to the pandemic this year. Nevertheless, 5,277 business aircraft departed the Swiss airport from March through August. Lower traffic did not deter Signature Flight Support’s acquisition in August of TAG Aviation’s FBOs at Geneva and Sion.
Paris Le Bourget Airport
Credit: Aeroports de Paris
The busiest airport for business aviation in Europe saw a remarkable 6,499 departures in the March-August COVID half-year, beating both the ninth and 10th busiest airports combined, yet still representing a 50.4% drop from the same period of 2019. Le Bourget’s other business line—as a venue for trade shows—is not doing much better: the latest casualty of France’s troubling rise in COVID-19 cases is the Euronaval exhibition and conference, which is now going digital for Oct. 19-25.
Moscow Vnukovo International Airport
Credit: Vnukovo 3
Given the Russian government’s stringent restrictions on immigration during the pandemic, Vnukovo’s year-on-year decline of only 27.1% is a remarkable achievement. Also eye-catching is the fact that 1,510 of its 4,607 departures in the March-August period—almost a third—were recorded in August. That figure represents 32.2% more traffic than in August 2019 and is likely as strong a reflection of pent-up demand as it is of the traditionally lower number of bizjet movements during the European holiday season.
Credit: Farnborough Airport
The best-performing British business-aviation airport recorded 3,890 departures in the six months to the end of August, a year-on-year decline of almost half. The number may have been a little higher had the airfield not found itself the target of a “die-in” protest by the Extinction Rebellion group, which claims carbon emissions per passenger are nine times greater from business aviation than from airlines. On the brighter side, Gulfstream opened its new London-area service center at the airport in July.
Credit: Jet Aviation
The positive contribution business aviation is making to the wider aerospace sector is clear from even the most cursory examination of figures from Switzerland’s largest airport. Business aircraft movements at Zurich were down 25.1%, at 4,310 departures March-August, while the public stayed away with a 76.7% year-on-year drop in airline passenger traffic. But August saw a turnaround in business-jet activity with departures up by a quarter (1,067 flights).
London Biggin Hill Airport
Credit: London Biggin Hill Airport
While nobody would claim to be having a “good pandemic,” London’s Biggin Hill Airport is weathering the COVID storm better than most. At 3,461 departures, its year-on-year six-month figure is down only 19.9%, the lowest decline among the European Top 10. And in August, its 959 departures represented a 40.4% year-on-year increase. On-site facilities expansion projects remain on track, with an aerospace college and hotel under development.
London Luton Airport
Knock-on effects of the pandemic come in widely differing shapes and forms. In late August, the Bedfordshire police and crime panel was told a large shortfall in income for the police force was due to reduced requirements from London Luton Airport, which initially had requested no police presence during early stages of the lockdown. The airfield remains vital to the UK’s business-aviation sector, but its 3,358 departures were 52.6% down on 2019 figures.
Another airport that saw its situation improve in August is Cannes-Mandelieu on the French Riviera. Some 1,046 flights—35% of its six-month total—departed during France’s traditional August holiday month. At 2,987 departures March-August, business-aviation traffic was 26.9% less than in 2019. The airport has re-signed a contract with Air BP as exclusive avgas and Jet A-1 supplier.
Olbia Costa Smeralda Airpor
That the Sardinian airport has made the Top 10 is quite an achievement. Following a planned closure in February and March for runway renovation, the airport was shut down for several days in May following regional government directives. General-aviation activity resumed on May 21, when a Learjet 45 arrived empty and departed in the late morning with two passengers bound for Milan Linate Airport. Olbia Costa Smeralda saw 2,984 flights depart between March 1 and Aug. 31, 22.9% down from 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic and country-by-country travel restrictions hit the business-aviation sector hard. Every airport is seeing traffic levels well below last year—but some are doing better than others. We have compiled the Top 10 most popular destination airports in Europe from March through August, using data on business aircraft departures from analysts WingX.
Angus Batey has been contributing to various titles within the Aviation Week Network since 2009, reporting on topics ranging from defense and space to business aviation, advanced air mobility and cybersecurity.
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