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Lyon's evolution

With new facilities coming online to meet rapidly rising demand, these are exciting times for Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport, writes Steven Thompson.

Aéroports de Lyon’s vision for Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport and Philippe Bernand’s determination to keep the gateway “human sized”, despite its ambitious development plans, were enough of a challenge to convince him to sign a new five-year contract as CEO earlier this year.

The airport provided proof of its ambitions in June 2012 when it opened its new-look Terminal 3, just seven months after completing the complex’s 10-gate satellite building.

Designed to appeal to easyJet and other low-cost carriers (LCCs) serving the airport, the strictly no frills facility is capable of accommodating up to 2.5 million passengers per annum.

However, Bernand – who has already chalked up five years at  the airport – insists that although T3’s design is “simple, it is not cheap”, adding that he wants it to be a “low stress terminal, not a low-cost terminal”.

But it was built with economy in mind, coming in at around  €24 million. Costing 30% less than a traditional 15,000sqm  building, Bernand admits that the new T3 is more about function  than form.

“LCCs don’t want luxury in a facility when it is not needed,” he explains. “They didn’t want it, so we didn’t build it. We designed this terminal with them and they are very, very happy with the way it is working, because it corresponds with what they want.”

Connected to Terminal 3 by underground tunnel, the 5,000sqm satellite building opened in November 2011 has separate Arrivals and Departures floors and a 500sqm retail area.

The satellite also boasts pre-boarding rooms at the behest of the low-cost carriers, effectively meaning that passengers are primed to step straight onto the plane the minute it is ready.

It is all a far cry from the old temporary infrastructure, which was opened in 2008.

“The main constraint we had in the past was our inability to  allow the LCCs to turnaround aircraft in 20 minutes, but all that  has changed now as the new system is very time efficient,”  enthuses Bernand.

Next on the agenda

The new facilities are a huge boost for Lyon–Saint Exupéry, although the airport is far from finished in terms of new infrastructure because of an aniticipated 35% rise in low-cost passengers over the next five years and the influx of football fans expected for the 2016 European Football Championships in France.

Indeed, 2016 is the unofficial deadline for completion of the €260 million first phase of T1–T3 project, which is currently being fine-tuned by Aéroports de Lyon (ADL).

Its key projects are the extension of Terminal 1 and the construction of a new centralised 10,000sqm commercial area at the heart of  the airport.

Bernand says the plans will give LCC passengers access to 4,500sqm of premium shopping facilities before they go to the T3 satellite building to catch their flights.

And he is confident that this move alone will help the airport hit its target of generating 50% of its revenue from non-aviation sources within the next five years. Non-aviation related activity currently accounts for 43% of Lyon-Saint Exupéry’s revenues.

When the T1–T3 project is complete, the airport will boast 70,000sqm of additional floor space and the capability to handle aircraft up to the size of the A380 at Terminal 1.

The expansion represents €200 million of investment, funded by Aéroports de Lyon’s own reserves and from bank loans.

Another €60 million is to be invested on creating parking space for 3,000 vehicles, a new petrol station, additional cargo facilities and the modernisation of Lyon–Bron Airport, a small executive-jet gateway also operated by ADL.

Traffic and route development

Lyon–Saint Exupéry handled 8.4 million passengers in 2011 and the figure is expected to rise to 11mppa by 2016, primarily driven by demand from the low-cost sector.

“Low-cost was zero five years ago, now it is at 22% to 23%, and we think it will go up to 35% within five years and maybe higher,” says Bernand. “It depends on the capacity of France to develop. The country was late to the game with LCCs. Our goal is 35%, but it could be up to 40%.

“We think, in Lyon, that low-cost and conventional (legacy) traffic  will be closer in the future. Conventional traffic will take some  aspects from the low-cost model and low-cost will take some things  from conventional.

“In Lyon, for example, easyJet has a strong focus on business clients. We built this extension with both in mind. Boarding and arrivals are separate but the commercial area is shared.”

Bernand has no hesitation in stating that 2011 was a good year for Lyon-Saint Exupéry, despite a slight dip in annual passenger growth, which finished the year at +5.7%.

He says: “Normally, we would have been at 8% growth, but we lost maybe 2% or 3% through two things. The first problem was with Tunisia and the Arab Spring; the second event was the strike in the security sector in December. Lyon was particularly impacted during those three days.

“Three days doesn’t sound like much, but it is maybe 1% of your traffic for the year. With these two exceptional circumstances, we lost some traffic, but we still reached a 5.7% increase in traffic. So yes, it was a good year.”


With major highways to the north, south, east and west, as well as its own high-speed rail station, and a tram link to the city centre, Lyon-Saint Exupéry is less an airport, and more of an interchange.

And Bernand firmly believes France’s high-speed rail service, the TGV, is complementary to the airport rather than competition.

“We’re truly an intermodal gateway,” he says. “We have a TGV station, as well as being a crossroads for different highways in France. We are also linked to the centre of Lyon by local rail.”

Next year, SNCF, the French National Rail Corporation, is set to introduce its very own low-cost train service based on that of the airlines.

Tickets for high-speed rail travel will be offered for under  €25 between Paris–Marne-la-Vallée, east of Paris, close to  EuroDisney, to Lyon, Marseille and Montpellier.

Bad news, surely, for Lyon-Saint Exupéry? “Absolutely not,” says Bernand. “There is huge competition between air and rail for regional airports. Everyone knows the critical time of transportation in three hours.

“If the journey is less than three hours by train, then clearly, the train is the winner. More than three hours, then air is the winner.

“In Lyon, for many years we have assumed the TGV is complementary to the airport. The more traffic for TGV, the more the benefit is for the airport. We think the TGV could be a way to increase the catchment area for Lyon. The most active promoter of high-speed rail to Lyon is not SNCF, it is us!”

Marketing and communications

Not only does Aéroports de Lyon promote use of the TGV, but it is also, understandably, a big champion of the city itself.

A major partner with Only Lyon – the city’s PR arm and its international brand – the airport is keen to shout about everything Lyon has to offer.

Lyon is, to all intents and purposes, France’s second city. Greater Lyon has 1.3 million residents, there is double this amount in the wider Lyon urban region, and the airport has a catchment area of 15 million.

Lyon is second only to Paris for ‘the three E’s’ – exports, economy and education – and is the number one region in France for industry. The city has a rich history, dating back to Roman times – it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and a solid cultural heritage.

Lyon is also the birthplace of cinema – the Lumière brothers invented the cinematograph camera here in 1895 – and in October 2009, the city launched the Lumière Film Festival.

Going back even further, with a 150-year history, the city’s famous Festival of Lights attracts millions of visitors to the region every December.

Above all, however, Lyon is known and renowned for its food. It has swathes of ‘bouchon’ restaurants, serving traditional Lyonnais cuisine, as well as 16 Michelin starred restaurants, including four with two stars and one with three.

I spoke with Bernand at the impressive L’Atelier des 2 Rives restaurant, the only difference is that restaurant whose name is a reference to Lyon’s two rivers (the Rhône and the Saône) is located at Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport.

He says that having such a restaurant ensures that “the trip starts at the airport”, adding that such facilities help personalise the airport and reflect the unique personality of Lyon.

Friendly face

As you have read, Lyon-Saint Exupéry may have big plans to expand,  but Bernand is convinced that whatever the future holds for the gateway,  its customer service initiatives will ensure that the airport maintains its  “unique character”.

One such initiative is its army of volunteer helpers, each wearing highly visible badges urging passengers to ask them for help if they need directions or have a question. They could be anyone in the airport’s employ, from a duty free worker, to the airport manager.

“Any airport is a naturally stressful environment,” concludes Bernand. “We have explained to these guys that they can help any passenger looking for something. It gives the airport a human face. It helps us keep that human sized characteristic, and it has been a big success.

“The passengers are very happy to find these people with this tag  on their jackets. We want to offer all services at a reasonable cost and  even for free, when possible. For example, we have taken the decision  to offer free Wi-Fi.

“Such things are very important. The more you offer, the more the passenger is happy. But, as I always tell my staff, the best gift you can give to the passenger, is your smile.”

And this, it seems, is Lyon-Saint Exupéry’s own recipe for success.

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