Business Aircraft Operations to Southern France: Part 1 – Airport Considerations
This is a post by author Isabelle Canton. Isabelle is the senior Universal Aviation representative – South of France for Universal Aviation France, which has an aircraft ground handling facility in Paris, Le Bourget. Isabelle is an expert on business aircraft operations in southern France and can be contacted at email@example.com.
During peak season, May-October each year, airports in southern France – including those around the French Riviera – experience congestion and aircraft parking issues. Typically, Nice (LFMN) is the most challenging airport at which to secure aircraft parking during peak season, but other airports also have issues and assorted restrictions to consider. It’s best to work with your 3rd-party provider and local ground handler well in advance when planning operations to southern France during peak travel periods.
The following is an overview of what you need to know:
1. Airport operating considerations
LFMN, Cannes (LFMD), Marseille (LFML), and Toulon (LFTH) are all Airports of Entry (AOEs) with full aircraft services and, with prior arrangement, credit availability. Aviation fuel is on hand at all of these locations during full operating hours – with the exception of LFMN, where fuel services close at about 2130-2200 local and reopen about 0630 local. Overtime fueling is possible at LFMN with prior arrangement. For short-notice fuel uplift requests during night hours, it’s possible to contact Air Traffic Control (ATC), which will contact the fueler to come out. Best practice for LFMN is to fuel on arrival, or at least prior to day of departure. Note that in-flight catering options are limited for all of these airports, except LFMN and LFMD. For LFML and LFTH, it’s best to source catering from a local hotel/restaurant or have your catering driven in from LFMN.
2. Large local events compound aircraft parking challenges
During the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix period each May, airports in the south of France become extremely busy. Parking availability can be limited, particularly at LFMN. During this period LFMN often denies parking requests and will not confirm parking status until close to day of operation. If you’re not able to confirm parking at LFMN, you’ll still be able to obtain airport slots to drop off/pick up passengers.
3. Nice (LFMN) is a 24-hour airport
LFMN is a 24-hour AOE with a General Aviation Terminal (GAT). This location mandates both Prior Permission Required (PPR) and airport slots, with a slot deviation of +/- 10 minutes. PPR is obtained by your ground handler via an online site. Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine (CIQ) clearance is normally available at the LFMN GAT 0800-2200 local. Your handler will advise CIQ of your arrival in advance to ensure someone is there to clear passengers/crew. With advance notification, CIQ clearance can be set up outside of normal operating hours with no additional fee. During Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix periods, requests for parking and the PPR status will not be confirmed until mid-April. Keep in mind that changes to your schedule will cancel any confirmed parking approvals and will require you to re-submit your parking request.
4. Cannes (LFMD) isn’t a 24-hour airport
Airport slots are required during the festival for LFMD and have a deviation of +/- 10 minutes. PPR is only needed for LFMD during the period of the Cannes Film Festival. Last year the airport permitted only six arrivals and six departures per hour and is expected to permit at least the same amount this year. However, specific information is unknown at this time. PPR is obtained by your ground handler via an online site. It’s important to note that operation to LFMD is limited to aircraft with maximum takeoff weights of up to 44,000 pounds (22 metric tons). Note that the runway here is only 5,282 feet (1609 meters) long. LFMD operating hours are normally 0800-2000 local. During summer months, however, operating hours are 0800-sunset + 30 min, with the latest possible operation at 2230 local. No overtime is possible for LFMD.
5. Toulon (LFTH) always requires PPRs
LFTH is a military airport, and PPRs are needed for all operations. Minimum PPR lead times are four hours in the case of domestic flights from within France, 24 hours if you’re operating in/out of Schengen areas, and 48 hours when operating from non-Schengen countries. Note that PPRs for LFTH must be obtained by your 3rd-party provider via a special website. Airport hours during summer are Mondays-Fridays, 0700-2230 local; Saturdays, 0900-2000 local; and Sundays and holidays, 0900-2230 local. For winter operations the airport is open Mondays-Fridays, 0640-2215 local; Saturdays, 0805-1820 local; and Sundays and holidays, 0640-2215 local. No overtime is possible for LFTH.
6. Marseille (LFML) GAT isn’t open 24 hours
LFML is a 24-hour AOE with no PPR requirements. Note that the GAT at this location is only open 0630-2130 local. Overtime can be requested to open the GAT outside of normal hours, but such requests require 48 hours’ advance notification. Alternatively, you may operate to the main terminal during the hours the GAT is closed. This location has fewer than 10 available parking spots in front of the GAT, and operators need to be aware that aircraft may be repositioned to a distant parking area. To access this remote parking area, it’s necessary to cross a taxiway and the runway, and crew are not permitted to access this area at night. You’ll need to have a towbar available to utilize LFML.
7. Airport options for St. Tropez
La Mole (LFTZ) is the closest airport to St. Tropez, but the runway is only 3,871 feet (1179 meters) long. You’ll need to be pre-qualified by a French instructor prior to landing at this location. Best airport options for St. Tropez are LFMN and Le Castellet (LFMQ). Be mindful that St. Tropez has only one road in and out of the city, which can become extremely congested during high season. Under ideal conditions, drive time from LFMN or LFMQ to St. Tropez is about 1.5 hours but can be as long as three to four hours. Helicopter transfers from LFMN or LFMQ to St. Tropez are only about 20 minutes.
While LFMN is often the preferred airport option for passengers heading to the French Riviera, there are airport and parking limitations, as well as high costs, to consider. For longer stays, particularly during the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix period, it’s worth considering repositioning your aircraft to one of the recommended alternate airports.
If you have any questions about this article or would like assistance planning your next trip to southern France, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Later, in part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss operating considerations in Southern France.