Euro 2012 should be good news for charter operators across the board, as a greatly increased requirement for flights to the venues in Poland and Ukraine will mean even those not engaged with carrying football fans will be busy ensuring day-to-day charter needs are met.
While the Euro football championships have been shared between two host countries twice before, no previous tournament has featured stadiums so geographically widespread as the 2012 outing.
Gdansk in the north of Poland is over 900 miles from Donets'k in the east of Ukraine, so air transport is going to play an important part in the smooth running of the group and knockout stages. Eurocontrol estimates that there will be more than 1,200 additional flights connected to the Euro 2012 games, ranging from business aviation to wide-body passenger charters.
Both countries are very challenging for passengers who want to drive or take public transportation from one city to another. The highway network of each country is not designed for this, so the only way to effectively move around may be private aircraft or helicopter.
For the Ukraine, hosting a major sporting event such as the Euro 2012 football championships has involved major investment not only in stadiums, but also in airport infrastructure. The country has undertaken upgrades at four airports, all of which are now fully in service. On April 12th, the president of the Union of European Football Associations Michel Platini will officially inaugurate the runway extension and new terminal building at the Danylo Halytskyi International Airport in Lviv in western Ukraine.
Platini is reported to have said that the organisation of Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine has been a complicated and difficult adventure, and that the tournament has played a key role in developing much-needed infrastructure in the host countries. For Ukraine the legacy will be new airports, hotels and roads.
Ukrainian authorities also saw to the reconstruction of the country's four stadiums, and made sure the street signs were available in English. Hotel accommodation may be at a premium, as it is reported that there are only around 60,000 beds available in the Ukrainian host cities, although only 20 per cent had been booked by February.
Fifteen matches will take place at four stadiums in Poland.
Every city that is going to host a match has access to an international airport that is located no more than 15km from downtown, so these are the obvious first choice arrival points. However, during Euro 2012 parking time will be limited on the match days, and in peak hours general aviation traffic may be excluded completely, so alternative commercial and general aviation airports have been designated.
"There will be some inconveniences since most of the operations are planned in the short time periods before and right after the matches," says Marcin Targonski of Polish handling specialist Excel Handling. "Every airport is limited by the runway capacity, therefore some passengers will have to wait a while or arrive much earlier than planned, and the same rule applies to the departures.
"At this moment we are still able to book slots as requested by operators, but the slot pool will eventually run out. Also limited parking time on the match days may prove to be a problem. It forces operators to plan another ferry operation to the alternative airport and back. This fact with the limited slot pool may cause some delays. But if everything is planned in advance I'm sure we'll be able to avoid such a situation."
In all Polish cities and in Kiev parking positions will be limited. Operators should anticipate having to re-position their aircraft to the closest alternate airport that has enough space and is reasonably priced.
Poland's team will play the first match against Greece on June 8th in Warsaw. The main international airport is Chopin (EPWA), and Lodz (EPLL) is the commercial traffic alternative, but Modlin (EPMO) will be a good option much closer to the city when it opens to general aviation traffic in May. EVO Jet Services has been carefully monitoring Modlin and says that the airport authority has made preparation for Euro 2012 its top priority. The airport plans to have water taxi and helicopter shuttles available for GA passengers, in addition to standard ground transportation by limousine. It is intended to open Modlin as a commercial airport by June, when short haul low-cost operators are due to begin operations there. Wroclaw
The brand-new stadium at Wroclaw will host Russia and the Czech Republic on the opening day. The city's Nicolaus Copernicus airport (EPWR) is closest, and the alternative of Katowice (EPKT) is some way distant.
Spain, Italy, Ireland and Croatia all have group matches at Gdansk, which is served by Lech Walesa airport (EPGD) and alternative at Bydgoszcz (EPBY).
Italy, Ireland and Croatia's other matches will take place at Poznan, accessed via the city airport Lawica (EPPO) or the nearby alternative of Zielona Gora (EPZG).
"As for ground transport, links very much depend on the city and their decisions," says Targonski of Excel Handling, "such as we witnessed during the match between Poland and Portugal hosted in Warsaw, when a few streets and a bridge were closed to traffic."
Excel Handling is confident however: "Since we work with very experienced drivers, we have never experienced any kind of complaints, or delays related to the ground transport of the passengers, nor do we anticipate any during Euro 2012."
Poland has never before hosted a sports event on this scale and so the local handling companies are not sure how much traffic to expect. "But we are receiving new requests almost every day so it seems that we'll have a pretty busy summer," adds Targonski. But not too busy to watch some football: "Some of us have already bought tickets and we work in a very efficient way that is also designed to give us some time to enjoy ourselves," he adds.
Euro Jet Intercontinental provides ground handling support at airports throughout eastern Europe, including Poland and Ukraine, and so brings a wider perspective to events. "In 2008 during the same championship in Austria, Euro Jet coordinated 86 movements in Bratislava as an alternate to Vienna on the day of the final match," says Attila Papai. "In Poland both slots and parking will be challenging. Even permit applications are complicated, so operators should really trust an expert who can coordinate everything for them.
"With so many private aircraft converging at once, it is always going to create challenges to get everyone in as close to their desired schedule as possible. The need to go to the matches via private aviation creates even more traffic than normal."
In Poland, ATC flight plans will be compared with cleared airport slots. In the event of any discrepancies a warning message will be sent to the flight plan originator. Unresolved discrepancies may result in the suspension of the flight plan. Further-more there will be limitations in ground times in Poland ranging from 30 to 90 minutes depending upon the aircraft ICAO category. Crews must remain on board during the ground time in order to quickly refuel and be flexible with parking spot changes.
"These limitations are, however, not applicable to aircraft carrying the football teams," says Papai.
Euro Jet assumes that the quarter-final, semi-final and the two final games will attract the most private jets. According to its previous experience, the number of landings per event and per airport (including alternate ones) could be between 120 and 160, including ad-hoc passenger charters. "But considering the location of the match cities in this case these numbers could be much higher," adds Papai.
"We will all be working non-stop! Our staff might have the football up on the screens in our operations control centre and perhaps our ramp agents will see some on breaks between flights. But those will be few and far between. We look forward to watching the re-runs, in between catching up on sleep!"
Ukraine will host 16 matches in Kiev, Donets'k, Kharkiv and Lviv.
As in Poland, each host city has a major international airport nearby, and alternatives have been specified for each. The host city airports themselves may also be considered as alternates depending on whether a match is being played that day.
In order to use the capacity of airports in the most effective way and to ensure the safety and effectiveness of ground handling, the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine has designated the four major airports as coordinated from June 1st until July 2nd and has appointed the KbpSCS as coordinator for the slot allocation procedure.
Elena Govorukhina, sales and marketing manager of EVO Jet Services, has some advice to any aircraft operator planning to come in for the Euro 2012: Apply for your slot and Ukraine landing permit as early as possible. "Permissions for general aviation flights in Poland are not required, but they are for Ukraine, so apply for them early. It is also best to keep in mind that Eurocontrol will be dealing with the new flight routing issues caused by the opening of Brandenburg Airport in Berlin at the same time as Euro 2012, so the more advance notice you can give on your permit request the better."
The rebuilt stadium in the capital city will host group matches involving the home nation, Sweden, England and France, as well as the final on July 1st.
Kiev has two airports: Boryspil (UKBB) and Zhulany (UKKK). Boryspil is the country's main airport and will have a new passenger terminal constructed in time for the tournament, and also has two vip halls which may be used by GA passengers. Zhulany is a smaller, city centre airport which also has a vip hall for GA passengers. However, both have limited space and there will be challenges and priorities given for slots and parking. The second alternative is Gostomel (UKKM), a cargo airport and flight test centre for the aircraft manufacturer Antonov.
Ukraine, England and France will also play group matches in Donets'k. In preparation for Euro 2012, the main Donets'k airport (UKCC) is constructing a new terminal, control tower, parking stands and runway. Euro Jet reports that the old runway could be used as parking space, so there is not likely to be a requirement to position out.
The first alternate Lugansk (UKCW) is about a three-hour drive away, while Mariupol (UKCM) is slightly closer and was designated as an international airport in 2003.
The stadium in Ukraine's second largest city Kharkiv, said to resemble a giant spider, will see games involving Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Portugal. The main airport at Kharkiv (UKHH) has built a new terminal for the Euro championships and the previous, visually striking, building is now a vip facility.
The previously dilapidated airport at Poltava (UKHP), which was earmarked for renovation by the time of the Euros, is the closest alternative, along with Dnepropetrovsk (UKDD) which is about a three to four hour drive away.
Germany, Portugal and Denmark will play out the group matches at Lviv. Lviv (UKLL) airport has been enhanced with a runway extension and new terminal building. In the event that it has no available slots or parking spaces the alternatives are Ivano-Frankovsk (UKLI) – not open 24 hours and with a small terminal – and Uzhgorod (UKLU). These would involve three to five hour drives, depending on traffic, says EVO Jet Services.
Sky Handling, Ukraine, advises that all slots for the four primary airports during the group stages have to be booked through Boryspil at least three days before the requested operation date. Submission for flights for the knock-out matches can be obtained not earlier than June 15th but not later than 48 hours before the day of the game.
"Right now in Ukraine the first priorities will be given to the flights which transport the leadership of the football associations, team flights and possible diplomatic flights," says Euro Jet's Papai. "For other operators we recommend they send us their estimated schedule and request as soon as possible to get them on a priority list. "
One issue that has come up is limited hotel availability in Ukraine, however we are working on ways to accommodate crews as soon as rooms get released.
"Also, Ukraine recently decided to participate in daylight saving time which means that there could be approved slot times that were applied based on UTC and are not the correct local times. We will be checking this and making sure it is all done correctly."
Sky Handling, Ukraine, has already received 54 confirmed requests for flights to the two Kiev airports, and 14 from major airlines. "We will put more staff and transport on during Euro 2012, but we will decline to handle some flights if we cannot guarantee services in time. Confirming services to everybody and then not being able to fulfil promises is not honest to the client!" says Victor Cherednichenko, head of operations.
Elena Govorukhina at EVO Jet Services says that the company will be bringing extra staff from its other stations to support the anticipated increased traffic during the event. "We are not expecting to get much sleep, let alone have time to go to any of the matches," she says. "But we are committed to making sure that our clients get to the games, enjoy themselves, and have as few issues as possible."
The operator's view
Providing the Ukrainian-based operator's perspective is Elena Shevchenko of Challenge Aero, who says: "We receive requests for our aircraft based in Ukraine almost every day, and mainly for Euro 2012 football. But as the event takes place in about three months we cannot confirm the requests so early. Most of the requests come from individuals."
The company has previous experience of flying to major championship sporting events, such as the 2006 World Cup in Germany and Euro 2008. "As I remember all problems with slots and permissions were solved by flying to alternative airports nearby, because it was impossible to get slots in direct airports unless you were a member of UEFA," says Shevchenko.
The majority of flights into this year's football extravaganza will be operated by foreign charter companies from around Europe – so EBAN asked them about their plans for the summer, and found some quite diverse opinions.
Merve Ozcan of Borajet said: "In my opinion there is no opportunity with these kind of events. People who fly private for these events only fly private once a year for that event, so I believe it doesn't improve our profile. Also most of the time, specially for sporting events, they use bigger business aircraft such as the BBJ so they can travel as a team or group."
Abelag's Thomas Haymans says they have yet to receive a booking or quotation request.
"We are pretty sure that it will happen in the coming month. People who want to fly for Euro 2012 are individuals/owners who love football and want to enjoy a great match. So we expect some bookings but for the football, it's always dependent on the team results, like in 2010 when Holland got to the final, we had many flight requests." Previous experiences during the World Cup and Euro 2004/8 suggest the challenge will be to find parking places for aircraft.
European Air Ambulance will be on heightened alert during the Euro 2012 football and London Olympics and ready to transport patients as requested, whether athletes or tourists travelling abroad for the events. The company is in close contact with the assistance and travel insurance companies to be ready when a medical repatriation is needed. Mission control is operational 24/7 and an air ambulance mission can be started within two hours, day or night.
Even though the airports will be fairly packed during the events, the air ambulance operator's status for medical flights will gain priority and be able to evacuate patients immediately.
Andy Barlow of Humberside airport-based Eastern Airways reports that the company is not expecting much involvement in Euro 2012. He says: "It is challenging, not least because Ukraine is out of range for us from the UK and difficult even from much of Europe to some of the destinations in the east of the country.
"Poland is not a problem in that respect but demand for flights there has been much lower. Given the operational complexities of operating to Ukraine, and with the normally high costs plus the main demand for flights back to home countries overnight, we're not really doing much for Euro 2012." With other operators engaged elsewhere, Barlow expects to do decent business anyway: "The competition falls during a peak period for general corporate demand, especially for car companies, and with many of our competitors tying themselves up with football related flights, we're doing very nicely picking up vip non-football work in countries such as Germany."
Last minute bookings are on the cards for MJET, as asset manager Dan Rusu explains: "Over 90 per cent of our flights are with or on behalf of the aircraft owners and we are expecting short-notice bookings. Each of our ultra large cabin business aircraft is ready for charters for groups of up to 19 passengers.
The performance of a favourite team is the decisive factor influencing some clients' decisions to watch a match or competition live. Rusu says: "Euro 2008 was a good example. I am sure that all 10 business jets that are under our management – three large cabin and two super mid-size Gulfstream jets, three ultra-large cabin Fokker 100EJ and two midsize Hawker 900XP jets – will have flights to both Euro 2012 and the Olympics.
"Obtaining slots and parking is always a challenging task during such important events but an experienced operator knows what has to be done," he adds.
Italian company Icaro Aerotaxi has received some requests but no firm bookings as yet. Captain Massimo Bernucci says: "I expect requests especially for Poland. Customer requests at this time are from brokers with no slot or parking requested right now. I hope it will not be a problem, but I do not believe so."
Experiences of several major sporting events in the past, including the World Cup final and Formula 1 Grand Prix, were not good for the company, Bernucci explains. "Always the price for the service given at the airport (handling etc) is higher than normal, yet the service was worse due to the high congestion, and too much operative workload to obtain airport slots, parking spaces or overnights with incredible restrictions.
"So normally, an air taxi flight that has to be flexible for the customer will not meet this requirement and we just have to be grateful for having the possibility to land in the special events airport."
The difficulties Bernucci envisages do not stop there. "In the past, we have lost several flights due to being unable to match customer requests.... or have been unable to overnight due to lack of parking; same for Athens, or Nice for the Monaco grand prix. Then, it happens that you are able to land and you see the reality is totally different, and there is lots of parking free because expected flights never landed and in the end a lot of confusion for nothing!"
German and northern European airports get a special mention from Bernucci for their efficiency during these major sporting events, in particular Berlin for the World Cup final and Amsterdam, Munich and Manchester for the champion- ship finals.
Herve Raffin of Medic-Air says that his team will be more involved during the Olympic games in London, mainly for travellers booked from Asia through its 24-hour Chinese and Japanese operators. "In our experience, all these big events in occidental cities with a good level of care don't provide so many medical cases for repatriation, and not in a rush. We don't need any previous plan or slot."
At Finnish company Jetflite Lija Montonen reports charter requests to fly to Poland and they have slots in place already for Warsaw. "We required them right at the beginning of March, when the slot coordinator started to grant them."
However, Montonen points out: "Football and the summer Olympics are not very popular in our country, not like ice-hockey, thus we are not expecting any high demand. We have experienced problems with parking of our aircraft during such sports events."
Having received a number of requests for Euro 2012 and the London Olympics, Premium Jet's Marcel Wepfer is confident that bookings will be made shortly. "Although most of the time we do not know who is behind a request, especially if it is made by brokers. Individuals as well as sponsors and associations are interested but in general such information will only be disclosed at the time of booking." Having had no firm bookings so far, Premium Jet has not encountered problems with airport slots or parking space. "We asked for the options and are rather close to what we requested."
Previous experience has shown that, once again, slots and parking space need to be considered carefully, or flying to an alternate airports for parking. Wepfer adds: "Apart from this it's sometimes difficult to not lose track of the different special processes and guidelines that need to be followed during such events."
Omni of Portugal has received pre-bookings for Euro 2012, mostly from tour operators and sponsors who focus on the sporting events. Pedro Caneira remarks that nowadays there seems to be more stress on the preparation rather than the operation itself. "In 2009 we flew to Rome for the final of the Champions League and all was smooth, although we had to position to Olbia between passenger drop-off and pick-up." He adds, cryptically: "In 2010 for the World Cup final in Johannesburg we experienced a new concept in aircraft parking creativity at Lanseria."
Simon Wheatley, manager UK of Air Partner Private Jets, says: "July Gringuz, who speaks Russian, German and English, was appointed as Air Partner's Private Jets sales manager for the Ukraine and CIS last year. Gringuz has been visiting airports and operators in the Ukraine and Poland to ensure Euro 2012 is successful for all our clients attending the games and that the company is well prepared to handle private jet or commercial jet charter bookings."
Chief executive of London Executive Aviation (LEA) Patrick Margetson-Rushmore says: "We are constantly quoting for Euro 2012 and London Olympics business jet charter flights at the moment. Of the two events, we would expect a larger volume of bookings for Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. There are still a healthy number of slots available around the matches at present, but of course those numbers will fall significantly as we approach the start of the tournament in Warsaw. "
For LEA, unsurprisingly, flights to the England Group D matches in Ukraine have been the most popular enquiries and bookings so far.
"For both the Olympics and Euro 2012, enquiries are tending to focus around companies who want to fly their clients or staff to the events."
He adds: "We are very experienced flying customers to major events across Europe, including sporting tournaments, which means we understand the difficult logistical challenges extremely well. Traditionally, business jet charter customers make bookings close to the day of departure, but our advice is to book flights for popular events as early as possible. Late bookings run the risk that the only available slots remaining are at airports far from the host stadium."
Margetson-Rushmore believes that the benefits of business aviation around major sporting events are beyond dispute. "Rather than losing days out of the office, fans chartering with their friends could fly out to see the live action at the football and be home again within hours. Dividing air charter costs between six or eight passengers can make the expense per person very attractive, especially when you factor in savings on hotels and ground transportation."
Challenge Aero's Kiev heliport offers a viable option
Those having to use the alternative airports may be interested to know that Challenge Aero has recently opened a heliport in Kiev, just five kilometres from the city centre, with heated hangars for helicopters and a vip lounge for passengers and crew rest area. It opened for business at the end of February.
Challenge Aero operates Eurocopter 120, 145 and 155, Bell 430, 407 and 429, and Agusta Grand helicopters. The company has now also opened a Moscow office, staffed by Sergei Nikiforov, who reports that there is an increasing quantity of management aircraft, not for charter. The company also operates a wide variety of business jet aircraft, comprising Yak 40, Falcon 20, Learjet 60XR, Hawker 850XP, Challenger 300, Falcon 2000, Global Express, Falcon 7X and Gulfstream 550 types.