Jan. 12, 2015

The slight uptick in European business aircraft traffic that began at the end of 2013 continued into 2014, producing the first positive year-end numbers in three years, according to the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA).

Total flight movements – including departures, arrivals, internals and overflights – increased 0.7 percent during 2014, and nine of the 12 months were in the plus column. The traffic rose only slightly, “but at least we’re talking about growth,” said EBAA CEO Fabio Gamba.

Three of the four traditional European market leaders posted traffic gains in 2014: movements in France increased 1.1 percent, U.K. traffic rose 2.2 percent and Italy recorded 0.1 percent growth, respectively.

The glaring outlier is Ukraine, whose traffic dropped 39.6 percent after the crisis with Russia flared in February.

“Ukraine used to be a relatively important market for business aviation,” Gamba noted, citing the country’s size, location and number of companies using business aviation located there. Business aviation traffic in Ukraine had grown 13.4 percent in 2011, 12.6 percent in 2012, and 6.3 percent in 2013.

“It’s now almost at a standstill, and is definitely affecting countries that are neighbors.” Moldova, for example, lost a quarter of its flight movements last year. Belarus and Albania were off slightly as well. “Whether these countries will be able to find solutions by developing ties with countries in other parts of Europe remains to be seen,” said Gamba.

Gamba said the Czech Republic was impacted in the early months of the conflict, but business traffic there rebounded, in part, by implementing satellite-based approaches (localizer performance with vertical guidance) at Brno and Ostrava airports.

Gamba is “cautiously optimistic” that the upward trend will continue in 2015, and is hopeful that growth overall will be between 1.0 and 1.5 percent.” His caveat, however, is that “something unforeseen could block recovery” of the European economies.

A particular concern is Greece, which is holding an election on Jan. 25 in the wake of its coalition government collapse. Gamba fears that if business conditions deteriorate in Greece, it could have a spillover effect to other fragile southern European states. Italy and Spain are business aviation’s fourth and fifth largest markets in Europe, respectively, and Portugal is home to Europe’s largest fleet, NetJets.

EBAA predicts it won’t be until 2017 that traffic levels again reach 2007’s peak. Gamba calls it the “lost decade,” adding that pre-recession numbers were inflated, in part, by a bubble of “newcomers creating overcapacity.” Now, after a double-dip correction in 2008-09 and 2011-12, the industry is going through a consolidation phase, one example being the recently announced Gama Aviation and Hangar 8 merger.