Recent times have been tough for the travel business and for airports worldwide that depend on it. Nice-Côte d'Azur is bucking the trend.Leaving behind the airline traffic slump due to the recession of 2009 and which only started to reverse from 2011 in some places, Nice is one of the rare European airports to see an increase in traffic over the past year. In all, traffic at Nice-Côte d'Azur is up by 6.1% helped by a 7% increase nationally and 5.3% internationally. The Riviera remains an attractive tourist destination and is boosted by public and private investment in numerous conference venues and festival facilities.
Nice-Côte d'Azur now serves 105 destinations (up from 103 in 2012), 56 airlines (up from 53 in 2012) and expects a 2013 summer weekly passenger count of 383,000 on the average (up by 3% over 2012). Many of the new companies come from the charter sector which have converted parts of their fleet for scheduled use; Germania, Thomas Cook, Fly Nonstop and Czech Airlines are among the newcomers.
Several destinations will see an increase in rotations. Don't miss a break in fascinating Prague, now served by 10 rotations weekly with Czech Airlines and Smartwings. Flights have also been added to Brussels, Gothenburg (see our previous report), Hamburg, Helsinki, Lisbon, Gatwick, Marrakech, Olbia, Paris Orly and the inevitable Moscow which now see both Domodedova and Vnukovo airports on the departure board.
Completely new destinations include Alesund and Kristiansand in Norway as well as Bremen, Catania, East Midlands, Exeter, and Liege. On the down side, Qatar is stopping it's Nice-Doha service to concentrate on an augmented Paris capacity instead. Not surprisingly the service to Praia in the Cape Verde Islands has also been scrapped.
I asked incoming Airport Director Dominique Thillaud if Ryanair is likely to be using any of the 175 Boeings it has on order for Nice routes. "Maybe, but only if they pay for our services the way other airlines do. Ryanair's habit of wanting a destination to pay them instead is perhaps good for their own bottom line but makes no commercial sense for an airport."
Not content with the status quo on March 27 Thillaud announced a series of initiatives to keep our local international airport on the upward curve, starting with a reassignment of several executive positions on his team. Commercial Aviation Business Unit Director Didier Monges (pictured below) and Business Unit Extra-Aéroportuaire Activities Director Filip Soete (pictured above with Thillaud) have seen their functions reassigned to make the most of their mutual experience which, in no small measure has contributed to the airport's recent success. Thillaud is clearly making the most of the executive talent he inherited from his predecessor.
Better passenger services are part of the plan for the near future. "The Passenger Pathway" is a concept developed by Monges to increase the usability of the airport. "It starts at the passenger's home or hotel and only finishes when he boards the aircraft." The aim is to make air travel through Nice as fluid and pleasant as possible. Not an easy task and one that will require constant tweaking. There'll also be seasonal attractions and new shops. Around 25% of traffic in Nice is business travellers and 75% are leisure.
Improved digital integration
Free WiFi will always be on offer and www.nice.aeroport.fr has been revamped to become more destination-oriented with Google Map integration and a "Voyages" section replacing the previous "Plaisir de Partir" feature. A mobile app for iOS and Android updates flight departures and arrivals in real time (http://aviation-affaires.nice.aeroport.fr/Passagers/HORAIRES-VOLS/Applications-mobiles). "Click and Park" parking vacancies can also be consulted in real time by smart phone (http://mobile.nice.aeroport.fr). Ten percent of the airport's revenue comes from parking charges. Club Salon admission to any of the 4 lounges will soon be available by booking on line, a service especially attractive to the business traveler.
T2 Expansion in View
Nice remains a prestige destination and there was no mention of the previously announced T3 low/medium cost terminal project. Instead we'll see an expansion of T2 within three to four years by way of an extension of the current Terminal 2 West. "This extension will have the same level of quality as the current terminals," promised Thillaud.
Cannes-Mandelieu is also seeing increased traffic but local noise and environmental constraints as well as nighttime closing all limit what is feasible. Helicopter traffic remains strong but the only scheduled helicopter route from either airport is Nice-Monaco. St Tropez remains without a heliport and the private initiative of a floating barge heliport there eventually went nowhere. So travel to the peninsula remains a choice between summer traffic jams, ferry from St Raphael or Ste Maxime, private yacht or charter chopper into private property, with the inevitable battles with the noise-conscious neighbours.
Time are changing and so are Aeroports Nice-Côte d'Azur. Looking up indeed!