* Sector rebounding much faster than big airlines
* Suffered less from April volcano crisis
* Optimism fuelled at Geneva industry show
By Robert Evans
GENEVA, May 3 (Reuters) - Business aviation is recovering fast from the economic crisis of the past 2 years, growing 5.2 percent in Europe so far this year and 11 percent in March, the continent’s air safety body Eurocontrol said on Monday.
The figure, based on the number of flights by independent operators including firms flying their own aircraft, contrasted with a growth in regular commercial passenger and cargo airline flights of only 1.6 percent in March, Eurocontrol said.
Business aviation also suffered much less than commercial and cargo carriers from the six-day shutdown of European airspace last month over fears of the effect on jet engines of ash from the volcanic eruption in Iceland.
“We think we’ve seen the bad days behind us,” Brian Humphries, president and chief executive officer of the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) told journalists on Monday on the eve of the sector’s annual showcase event, EBACE.
Business aviation, which accounts for some 8 per cent of all air traffic movement across Europe, declined by 14 percent in 2009 from 2008, leading to cancelled or suspended plane orders, after booming since the start of the decade.
But the sharp upturn in activity reported by Eurocontrol was bound to fuel optimism at EBACE, the European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition, opening in Geneva on Tuesday.
Industry officials in town for the three-day event at which major deals are often negotiated said a similar turnround after a dismal 2009 was under way in North America, but no figures were immediately available.
Companies involved in business aviation worldwide, and taking part in EBACE, include Airbus Industrie [ARBU.UL], Boeing (BA.N) Business Jets division, France’s Dassault (AVMD.PA), Canada’s Bombardier (BBDb.TO) and Brazil’s Embraer (EMBR3.SA).
The event, the 10th since EBACE was launched in 2001, is a major global focus for the sector and attracts not only big planemakers and their suppliers but also small firms offering services like air taxis and maintenance.
“With 66 percent of all business flights in 2009 between city pairs that have no daily scheduled service, it is clear that business aviation has refocused on its niche market,” said David Marsh, head of forecasting at Brussels-based Eurocontrol.
The inter-governmental organisation said business aviation was well positioned to take advantage of a recovery. According to EBACE officials it contributes some 20 billion euros ($26.8 billion) or 0.2 percent of GDP to the European economy.
It also suffered much less than other carriers from the ash-related shutdown of European airspace last month. The airline industry body IATA says the shutdown cost $1.7 billion in foregone revenue after a loss of $9.4 billion in 2009, due mainly to a sharp drop in passenger demand. (Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Tim Pearce)