Bordeaux prepares the airport of tomorrow

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Taking advantage of the exceptional growth of its metropolis, Bordeaux–Mérignac Airport (BOD) has positioned itself to be an important part of the French airport ecosystem over the coming years.

As she prepared to attend the Routes Europe 2022 event, Cyrielle Clément, Head of Routes Development at Bordeaux Airport, spoke to AeroTime about their ambitious strategy to face the challenges of tomorrow.

Before aviation came to a near halt in March 2020, Bordeaux airport had recorded 10 years of constant growth. In 2019, more than 7.7 million passengers transited through the airport. BOD forecasts a return of traffic to around 70% of pre-pandemic levels, with up to 5.6 million passengers expected in 2022.

During the global health crisis, Bordeaux airport lost one of its largest routes. As a condition of receiving €7 billion in state aid in the form of two loans, the national carrier Air France had to forego some domestic routes when an alternative journey by train of fewer than two hours and 30 minutes was available.

Consequently, the route between Bordeaux and Paris Orly Airport (ORY) was closed. This was the airport’s third-biggest line and accounted for about 8% of the overall traffic with 600,000 annual passengers. This loss is even more significant as domestic traffic remained the most resilient during the crisis.

Yet, Bordeaux is on par with other French regional airports when it comes to its recovery, with a return to pre-pandemic traffic level expected between 2025 and 2026. According to Cyrielle Clément, Bordeaux airport owes its resilience to the diversity of its passengers.

“We have a traffic mix that is very interesting because we are not only dependent on business traffic or leisure traffic or VFR traffic [Visiting Friends and Relatives – ed. note],” Clément tells AeroTime. “We have a bit of everything, which reduces the risks on our routes.”

A diversified attractivity

And Bordeaux has a lot to offer. In addition to having a globally recognized name in the world of wine and spirits, it also benefits from a number of features that would attract tourists. In 2007, over half of the city was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Center, making it the largest urban area in the world to receive the distinction. It is also surrounded by beautiful landscape, bordered on one side by the Atlantic coast, with places like Lacanau, the Arcachon Bay, the Basque country and the vast forests of the Landes de Gascogne, and on the other side, the natural hinterland of Dordogne and Perigord.

The metropolis of Bordeaux is also a major aeronautical center, with the presence of Dassault Aviation assembly lines in Merignac, in the vicinity of the airport. There, the manufacturer assembles both civilian and military aircraft, including its Rafale fighter jet.

“Commercial aviation suffered the full brunt of the crisis. But in the defense sector, Dassault has been extremely successful, allowing a whole ecosystem of aeronautical or equipment companies to work around the metropolis,” explains Clément.

Beyond the historic presence of Dassault in the region, Bordeaux also benefits from a new phenomenon in the French economy: decentralization from Paris. This dynamic was accelerated by the crisis caused by the pandemic, after remote work became a daily reality for many Parisians. From luxury products with Hermès to technology startups like Back Market, companies relocated part of their activity to Bordeaux.

“I think people are asking more and more questions about the added value of living in Paris,” says Clément, who also chose to move away from the capital. “Working in a city like Bordeaux gives access to larger housing. The size of the city also allows for faster transportation, whereas living in Paris usually adds up a lot of hours of transport per day to get to home. The lifestyle is a little slower and less stressful.”

As a result, Bordeaux’s metropolis welcomes around 20,000 more inhabitants per year, which is the highest demographic growth in France. This was made possible by ideal accessibility, with Paris just two hours away by train, five highways serving all directions, including Spain, and the airport offering more than 90 destinations.

This year, Bordeaux airport opened thirteen new routes including five new European destinations: Santiago de Compostella, Brindisi, Zadar, Trapani and Alghero . Of the three types of traffic from which Bordeaux benefits – business, leisure and VFR – leisure and VFR seem to be the one that picks up the fastest. But this strategy could soon change.

“There are former lines that we would like to see return, and which are not as touristic. Our priorities are, for example, cities like Copenhagen, Vienna or Munich,” Clément says. “We call these destinations city breaks, with more frequencies to allow for a fairly quick return. Such routes cater to a slightly more mixed type of clientele, notably business clients.”

In the long term, Bordeaux airport also aims to develop long-haul destinations with more transatlantic routes, in addition to Montreal already operated by Air Transat.

“We would like to develop our connection with New York, as the United States is the leading exporting country for the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. It would thus make sense from a business perspective.”

A vision for the future

To help along this global expansion, Bordeaux airport set sustainability as one of the major axes of its strategic orientation for the years to come. The airport has set itself the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. To do so, Bordeaux joined the Airport Carbon Accreditation program, which brings together more than 300 airports around the world and helps them find impactful solutions towards sustainability.

Since 2019, 100% of the energy provided to airlines is renewable. 400Hz frequency converters were installed to allow aircraft to run all their systems without having to use their auxiliary power unit. Ground handling vehicles, including apron shuttle buses, are progressively replaced by either electric or hybrid vehicles. From an operational point of view, Bordeaux airport is negotiating with airlines to accommodate recent aircraft and to establish efficient flight routes to limit fuel consumption and noise pollution.

On the passenger side, 3000 square meters of solar panels was installed on the parking lots.

“This enabled us to reduce our CO2 emissions by 4%. There will be a second phase where we will also install these panels on another car park, the P4 car park. The idea is to gradually aim for the autonomy of our buildings in terms of energy,” Clément adds.

And with France kickstarting research into potential hydrogen powered applications to aviation during the pandemic, Bordeaux airport has already launched a request for information to identify the development needs in terms of airport infrastructure.

Cyrielle Clément, Bordeaux Airport Head of Route Development

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