For years, Nice Cote d’Azur airport received a steady stream of wealthy Russians touching down in corporate jets on their way to holiday homes on the French Riviera. As the Ukraine crisis deepens, that’s begun to change.
European Union sanctions curbing travel for leading Russian business people and politicians have started to bite, causing private-aircraft flights from Moscow to Nice to drop 5 percent in the seven months through July, the first fall since 2009.
“A lot of Russians bought property in the south of France, they love to come here,” said Umberto Vallino, head of business aviation development for Nice, Cannes and St. Tropez airports. “This is the first year we’ve noticed a reduction in traffic.”
More than 140 individuals and 50-60 companies are already subject to sanctions imposed by the EU and other authorities, according to law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, which has a specialist aviation practice and offices in Moscow.
With Europe due to extend curbs to sectors including defense and energy today and the U.S. scouring aircraft fleets for links to Russian owners, the decline in private-jet flights seems set to deepen.
Nice, the nearest major airport to high-end Mediterranean sunspots such as Cannes and Monaco, is the leading year-round European destination for the Russian elite, followed by Geneva, said Magnus Henriksson, head of business development at Avinode, which matches private jet owners with rental customers.
Russians landing at Nice’s business aviation terminal often own property in France and fly over with their spouse and children for working holidays, helping Moscow to become the airport’s biggest summer source of private-jet traffic.
“Contracts can be signed in a nice hotel or on a yacht, it’s not necessary to be in the office,” Vallino said.
The decline in Moscow-Nice flights reached 9 percent in June, he said, while research from business aviation consultant WingX Advance shows the number of services from the Russian capital’s Sheremetyevo airport to the French city fell by 32 in the year through August, with 13 fewer flights from nearby Domodedovo and 25 fewer from St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo hub.