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Taking off - Limoges Airport

Taking off - Limoges Airport

Each year well over 300,000 people pass through Limoges Airport, so we decided to drop in ourselves, for a look behind the scenes, and discover some of the reasons for its growing popularity...

LM Limoges Airport-8281


When the first commercial flight touched down in 1971 at what we now know as L’Aeroport International de Limoges, the world was a very different place. Back then Air France was impressing its long-haul passengers by serving à la carte in-flight meals on Limoges porcelain plates, and the concept of cheap, no-frills air travel for all looked likely to remain a distant dream. Forty-two years on, however, low-cost operators like Ryanair and Flybe have opened up the skies to everyone.

On the ground the effects have been particularly striking since KLM’s low-cost subsidiary Buzz began flying into Limoges a year ahead of Ryanair in 2002. The Chambre Régionale de Commerce et d’Industrie du Limousin at that stage calculated that 2003 would see Ryanair’s passengers alone injecting something like 165 million euros into the regional economy. Better still, the benefits looked like continuing, thanks to the surge in numbers of people being encouraged by convenient and affordable access to buy property and settle in the region. Keenly aware of its vital role in the success story, the airport has steadily upgraded its services and facilities, and is now significantly better equipped than most comparable sized regional airports. It’s pretty stylish, too. The main passenger building, completed in 2005, employs a lightweight structure of steel, aluminium and glass set between massive, full-height gabion walls filled with over 450 tonnes of stone quarried at Saint-Yrieux. Inside, the building is light, airy and welcoming with everything needed by passengers, and those meeting them, immediately obvious alongside conference facilities and free Wi-Fi hotspots. It’s clearly a hit with regular users, with something approaching a club atmosphere when a flight is due to land, particularly in fine weather, when those due to meet friends and relatives cluster around the bar terrace for a first glimpse, through the perimeter fencing, of arrivals disembarking.

Appearances, though, can be deceptive, for the cheerful, laid-back vibe conceals a distinctly uncompromising approach to security – everyone, including members of the airport’s 90-strong staff, wishing to pass beyond the reception area is subject to the same stringent identity and metal detection checks (plus x-ray examination of whatever they’re carrying) as passengers. The two departure lounges are on a lower level with views of the runway, while hidden away behind them is a baggage-handling area, with further x-ray monitoring and a separate conveyor belt for bulky items.

Outside things are just as efficiently laid out. Closest at hand on the left is a hangar for ground support equipment like mobile power and de-icing units, baggage conveyors, passenger boarding steps and tractors, beyond which are storage hangars to protect aircraft during particularly adverse weather conditions, and finally workshop facilities to maintain and service aircraft. In the other direction the most visible feature is the control tower and civil aviation office building constructed in 1997, beyond which lie the fire and emergency services. A surprising fact is that the crash tender crews are required to leave their garage and position the unit beside the runway for every take-off and landing, so as to respond instantly to any hint of a problem. After each aircraft movement has been completed the crew returns the tender to its garage.

LM Limoges Airport-8241

Avoiding animal collisions with aircraft is vital for operational safety, particularly during take-offs and landings, so the Service Prevention Péril Animalier’s specially trained agents are active from dawn to dusk. Their vehicle displays the more international sounding ‘Bird Control Unit’ markings and is equipped with sound-scarers (including cries of distress) and pyrotechnics (rockets).

Also visible beyond the fire and emergency services are the buildings of two flying clubs (Limoges and Limousin) plus the helicopter base of the Gendarmerie de Limoges, who carry out aerial surveillance plus search and rescue operations within a radius extending to the Atlantic coast (around 50-minute flying time for an AS350B Écureuil helicopter with a cruising speed of 220km/h). Beside the main tarmac-surfaced runway is a parallel, 800m-long grass airstrip used by light aircraft and a gliding club, whose own hangar facilities are visible beyond the runways.

The airport markets itself as being both ‘modern and friendly ’, and the sophistication of its facilities mean that it can welcome 500,000 schedule flight passengers per year, handle daily postal flights operated by Europe Airpost, along with less typical air traffic movements. In recent years, these have included scheduled touch-and-go movements as part of the airworthiness certification process for the Airbus A320 and 380, but at any time of the day or night ‘LIG’, as it is known, is capable of receiving emergency landings by both civil and military aircraft following technical malfunctions such as engine failures or sudden de-pressurisations. In cases like this, disruption to other users is kept to a minimum thanks to parking for up to five passenger aircraft at a time in front of the terminal building, plus dedicated facilities for those with limited mobility.

Despite trying times for many sectors of the aviation industry, Limoges Airport continues to flourish, not least thanks to its commitment to forging links with the UK – and maintaining them. Visitors and returning residents alike can’t miss a colourful stand in the main reception hall displaying not only tourism information but a wealth of local service details, all presided over by the ever-cheerful Loïc Pherivong of Welcome en Limousin. He’s happy to help non-French speakers with things like finding a restaurant or a tourist site, but perhaps more surprisingly he also represents a network of bilingual professionals who can help anyone thinking of putting down roots in the region or setting up a business of their own. Members display a colourful sticker on their business premises and vehicles, by way of assurance that at least one of the staff will be English-speaking. It’s a helpful and timely initiative (Loïc reckons it’s the only such organisation in Europe) which works closely with the CCI and adds a final welcoming touch to its showcase regional airport.

 

Find out more...

+ The Aéroport International de Limoges, 81 Avenue de l’aéroport, 87100 Limoges; +33(0)5 55 43 30 30; aeroportdelimoges.com

+ Welcome en Limousin Professionals’ Network; +33(0) 5 55 43 30 53; welcome-en-limousin.com

+ Gliding fans are welcomed by ALSA Association Limousine des Sports Aérienes; Rue de la Baconie 87100 Limoges; +33(0)5.55.50.06.62; planeur.limoges.free.fr

+ Aéroclub de Limoges; +33 (0)5 55 00 11 50; aeroclubdelimoges.blogspot.fr

+ Aéroclub du Limousin; +33 (0)5 55 00 13 48; aeroclubdulimousin.blogspot.fr

 

LM Limoges Airport-8226

Facts & figures

+ Limoges International Airport is owned by the Syndicat Mixte de l’Aéroport de Limoges Bellegarde (SMALB) founded in 1994, since which time the airport has been managed by the CCI de Limoges.

+ The 2440m-long, 45m-wide main runway is used by an average of 150 flights per week, which equates to some 1500 passengers per day.

+ There are 550 car parking spaces, with long- and short-stay zones, plus a drop-off point.

+ Current scheduled low-cost flight operators: Ryanair www.ryanair.com, flybe www.flybe.com and HOP! www.hop.fr.

+ Other operators: Aer Lingus, Air France, Chalair, Lufthansa, TwinJet www.twinjet.fr.

+ UK destinations served direct: Liverpool, London-Stansted, Nottingham and Southampton plus summer services to Bristol, Leeds-
Bradford, Newcastle and Nottingham.

+ Domestic (including connecting) flights to: Ajaccio, Biarritz, Brest, Caen, La Rochelle, Lille, Lorient, Lyon, Marseille, Metz-Nancy, Montpellier, Mulhouse-Basel, Nantes, Nice, Paris Orly, Pau, Rennes, Strasbourg.

+ Famous names who have flown in include: Presidents François Miterrand and Jacques Chirac, Hilary Clinton and the President of the People’s Republic of China.

+ Around 1500 tonnes of mail are flown from Limoges on behalf of La Poste by Europe Airposte each year.

 

© All rights reserved. Originally published in Living Magazine December 2013