“The disappearance of the shuttle to Orly shows that the world is changing”

After the Covid-19 crisis which saw passenger traffic collapse, a major period of work in particular to prepare for the arrival of the tram, and a ranking last summer which designated it “worst airport in Europe” , Bordeaux-Mérignac airport has just adopted a 240 million euro investment plan for the next five years. 20 minutes questioned the director of the airport, Simon Dreschel, who explains to us how his establishment is going to win back its passengers, and restore its image.

Simon Dreschel, director of Bordeaux-Mérignac airport – APPA-SA-ABDM

Last summer, a ranking based on ratings and opinions obtained on Google, designated Mérignac airport as the worst airport in Europe. How do you explain it, and how did you experience it?

It’s never fun, and I immediately had a thought for the airport teams who are totally invested in their work. When your business finds itself in a bad buzz like that, it’s difficult, especially since we have many strengths: another ranking recently put us in third place among the most punctual airports in Europe. Despite everything, we have weaknesses and some catching up to do on certain basics, in particular sanitary facilities, thermal comfort and accessibility which has been complicated with the works… The airport has grown and the underground networks have not kept pace, which explains why we have major health problems. Today, we are investing 240 million euros in a five-year investment plan to correct these weaknesses.

The main focus of this investment plan is based on the energy transition, what does it provide?

We want to become an energy production hub. The idea is to take advantage of our surfaces, whether it’s our car parks or aeronautical surfaces, with photovoltaics, geothermal energy… We want to produce energy for ourselves, as for those around us, and thus show the usefulness of the airport on the territory. We hope to produce 65% of the energy we consume ourselves by 2027, with the aim of reducing our carbon emissions by 40%. At the same time, we have set ourselves a 25% reduction in our energy consumption. It’s ambitious because at the same time we are going to have a reconstruction of traffic, the airport will continue to develop.

In terms of traffic precisely, what is the assessment of the year 2022 and what are your prospects?

We ended 2022 with 5.7 million passengers, which is still 30% less compared to 2019, our reference year. But we are not worried, we are on a very buoyant territory, on which the companies want to come. Our five-year plan aims to rebuild traffic with the aim of regaining our 2019 passenger volume, i.e. 7.7 million passengers. But we want to develop in a reasoned way, when other airports will rebuild their traffic more quickly. We are no longer in the race for volume, and it is true that the Covid has contributed to this.

The association for the defense against air pollution, an association of residents, does not share the same analysis, and denounces a “strong increase” to come in air traffic, which would increase from 84,000 flights in 2019 to 122,000 flights in 2025.

No, our strategic plan does plan to recover the traffic of 2019 in five years, with more or less the same number of movements – we are talking about movements, not flights. I remind you in passing that traffic fell to 38,000 movements in 2020, 48,000 movements in 2021, and we are closing 2022, even if all this does not detract from the fact that we want to reduce our impact.

The Covid crisis also marked the end of the air shuttle to Orly, which also represents a significant loss of passengers that you will not find?

This line carried more than 600,000 passengers a year, or nearly 10% of our traffic, which is enormous. It’s a thorn in the side, and it’s actually what also explains why we’re going to take a little longer than other airports to rebuild our traffic. The economic actors located around the airport are still experiencing this disappearance with difficulty, but we do not envisage the return of this shuttle, the abolition of which has been approved by the European Commission. We have to get used to it, the disappearance of this type of flight shows that the world is changing, it is up to us to be flexible and to adapt. On the other hand, it is not impossible that these flights will see the light of day again, but with green, hybrid or biofuel planes. Our strategy is rather to prepare ourselves for this type of theft. We can say that Bordeaux airport has paid the tribute of the energy transition, and is getting into it on the same level.

The plane is also regularly singled out because of its carbon footprint, how do you manage this situation?

We have a responsibility, and our mission is for our sector to emit less carbon, even if the aviation emissions mix in the world is only 2 or 3%. This is why we make biofuels available at our airport, which reduce aircraft in-flight emissions by up to 80%. We have launched the embryo of a local sector, with a biofuel manufactured in the Bassens depot based on cooking oils, which come from all over Europe. We thus supply regular airliners, or business jets, but the sector must develop to reduce the cost of these biofuels, which are still three to four times more expensive than conventional kerosene.

What about hydrogen?

We have included in our plan to set up a local hydrogen sector at the airport, even if the hydrogen aircraft are not yet ready, and there is little chance that they will be within five years. However, we are beginning to set up the first experiments on track vehicles, and why not buses. We will therefore work rather on the ground at first.

The airport will host the extension of tram line A in April, what will change?

This is an excellent thing because it multiplies the means of transport to get to the airport, especially for the 8,000 people who work permanently in the airport area. It will really change their daily life. This may be a little less the case for our passengers, who do not all come from central Bordeaux, we have a very large catchment area…

There is also the issue of nuisance due to night flights. What are you planning?

Our commercial night flights represent 5 to 6% of traffic, but we will have to reduce them, and certainly stop them in the “heart of the night”, because they have an impact, it is undeniable. We will come to this gradually, even if it is a decision that is up to the State. On the other hand, we have tools to achieve this, in particular tariff modulation: we ensure that night tariffs for planes are dissuasive. I am talking about commercial flights, because public service or the transport of organs is another subject. On the other hand, contrary to what I have been hearing a lot lately, Bordeaux is not the only airport in France with night flights. There are even very few airports that have a real curfew.

In terms of services, are you satisfied with the coverage of Bordeaux airport?

Our fundamental job is to be connected to Europe, and we are rebuilding everything. But we are also working in the United States: we have opened Montreal, we can go to the West Indies… It’s a bit like our gondola.

And New York is still interested in Bordeaux airport?

We still like the idea.

source site