Aéroports de Paris History

291 Boulevard Raspail
75675 Paris Cedex 14

Telephone: (+33) 1 43 35 70 00
Fax: (+33) 1 43 35 71 17

Government-Owned Company
Incorporated: 1945
Employees: 7,779
Sales: FFr 7.94 billion ($1.41 billion) (1998)
NAIC: 48811 Airport Operations

Company Perspectives:

In order to assure its competitiveness in a highly contested environment, Aéroports de Paris has taken as its objectives to: respond to demands for capacity with an ambitious infrastructure development program; improve the quality of service; maintain a financial balance; successfully diversify its activities. Key Dates:

Key Dates:

Creation by French government of Aéroports de Paris.
Civilian air traffic returns to Orly and Le Bourget airports.
Opening of North Terminal at Orly.
Air France transfers to Orly from Le Bourget.
Launch of commercial assistance operations; opening of South Terminal at Orly.
Opening of heliport at Issy-les-Moulineaux.
Creation of Roissy airport.
Operations begin at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport.
Opening of TGV station at Charles de Gaulle.
Addition of two new runways at Charles de Gaulle.
Opening of Federal Express cargo facility.
Conversion of Cergy-Pontoise airport for international air traffic.

Company History:

Aéroports de Paris, a financially independent company owned by the French government, is responsible for the operations of all aviation field activity within a 50-mile radius of Paris, placing a total of 14 airfields under Aéroports de Paris's control, including international airports Charles de Gaulle-Roissy and Orly, the business class airport Le Bourget, 12 airfields serving light craft, and the Issy-les-Moulineaux heliport in Paris. Together Aéroports de Paris's properties are roughly two-thirds the size of Paris itself, making it Europe's largest airport body. It is also one of Europe's--and the world's--busiest airport operators. Serving nearly 64 million passengers in 1998, Aéroports de Paris boasts Europe's highest rate of continental air passenger traffic, and the second highest international passenger volume in the world, behind London. For total traffic volume, Aéroports de Paris ranks number eight in the world, behind London, New York, Chicago, Tokyo, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. The company also ranks among the world's leading handlers of air freight, with more than 1.29 million tons of freight and mail handled in 1998. The opening of a terminal by Federal Express to handle all of its European shipping activity is expected to provide a substantial boost to Aéroports de Paris's freight operations. The company also has been expanding its airport consulting, construction, and management subsidiary, ADP Management, which has successfully competed for key airport contracts in China, among others. In 1998 Aéroports de Paris reported revenues of nearly FFr 8 billion.

Origins in World War II

Prior to the Second World War, passenger air travel remained rare, and flying in general was restricted to either the very daring or the very rich. At the turn of the century, however, Paris already boasted its own airfield, at Issy-les Moulineaux, near the Eiffel Tower. Many of France's pioneering heavier-than-air aviation efforts, including Ernest Archdeacon's test flight of a Wright-designed glider in 1905 and the first flight of the Trajan Vuia, took place at the Issy-les-Moulineaux site. Later, in 1924, the site served as the launching grounds for the first helicopter flight, piloted by the Marquis of Pescara.

By then, however, Paris was being served by a new airfield, at Le Bourget. Originally established as a camp to protect Paris from the German Zeppelins during the First World War, Le Bourget was soon after fitted with a runway; by the 1920s, Le Bourget was serving passengers and had its own air traffic control facility. By 1937, Le Bourget was serving more than 131,000 passengers and some 18,000 aircraft arrivals and departures per year.

During World War II, the Free French government, set up under Charles de Gaulle in London, began making plans for the postwar development of a civil aviation authority. In 1944, Alain Bozel, secretary general to the French ministry of war, submitted a proposal for the construction and operation of a major airport serving the Paris area. Dubbed the 'Aéroport de Paris,' the new body was to be placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Equipment, Housing and Transport, but controlled by the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Aéroports de Paris officially came into being in October 1945. Civilian aviation activities commenced in February 1946, when the Allied forces turned over the Le Bourget and Orly airfields to the new French government. In that year, Aéroports de Paris acted as host to the launch of Air France's Paris-New York flight. Passenger levels topped 300,000 in 1946.

The airfield at Orly had been in development since the 1920s and in service since the 1930s. Located less than 11 kilometers from Paris, it was to become the site of France's first major airport. Construction began on the North terminal at Orly, which was completed in 1948. Continued expansion soon led Air France to transfer its operations from Le Bourget to Orly, marking the latter's debut as France's primary airport. By then, passenger volumes at the Aéroports de Paris facilities topped one million per year.

Aéroports de Paris continued to expand during the 1950s. In 1954, with the opening of the first of the Orly South terminals, the company began offering commercial assistance services, including ticketing and check-in services for airline clients. The opening of Orly South also provided Paris with the infrastructure to receive the first jet plane arrivals. More than any other technological development, the use of the jet engine for aircraft signaled the start of the first real boom in civilian air travel. By 1957, Aéroports de Paris registered more than 2.5 million passengers per year, more than 42,000 tons of freight handled, and nearly 112,000 aircraft movements per year. These totals placed Aéroports de Paris as the world's second largest airport operator, behind London. That same year, the Issy-les-Moulineaux opened as an international heliport.

Expansion in the 1970s

The predicted rise in air passenger travel led Aéroports de Paris to begin searching for a site for a new airport as early as the late 1950s. By then, the company already had begun construction on the next phase of Orly, that of a second South terminal. In 1959, Aéroports de Paris also put into service a third runway, capable of receiving a new breed of four-engine jet craft serving the intercontinental market. The completion of the A6 highway, connecting Orly directly to Paris, marked the debut of a new boom in air travel that saw Aéroports de Paris quadruple its passenger traffic volume within ten years. In 1960, Aéroports de Paris, in addition to more than 60,000 tons of handled freight and 126,000 aircraft arrivals and departures, saw its passenger volume top 3.5 million.

The following year, Aéroports de Paris opened the new Orly South terminal. More than just a terminal, Orly South became France's most visited tourist attraction, receiving more than one million visitors per year, in addition to many of Aéroports de Paris's four million passengers per year. Serving as the launch pad for the sleek new rear-engined Caravelle jet, Orly South marked the debut of the modern era of passenger air travel. By 1964, more than five million passengers and 100,000 tons of freight passed through Aéroports de Paris's operations. In that year, the creation of a new airport to serve the Paris area was announced at the site of Roissy-en France. Work on the Roissy airport began in 1966. Meanwhile, infrastructure improvements continued to be made at Orly, including the opening of a new air traffic control tower in 1966, an airport washing facility, and the debut of construction on what was to become the Orly South West terminal, opened in 1969. The following year, the Orly South East terminal began operations.

In 1970, more than 12 million passengers traveled through the Aéroports de Paris facilities. That year also saw the arrival of the first Boeing 747. The 747 proved to be something of a revolution to air travel and opened up a new era of less expensive air travel that was to make air travel, still rather restricted to wealthier passengers, a viable option for a vast new market of travelers. By the middle of the decade, Aéroports de Paris approached 20 million passengers per year; its freight activity had also expanded, reaching 400,000 tons. Helping to absorb the growing volume of activity was the inauguration of the first Roissy airport terminal, Charles de Gaulle 1, in 1974.

The Arab Oil Embargo and resulting economic crisis of the mid-1970s put a temporary stop to the work begun on the second Charles de Gaulle terminal. Work did not begin again until 1977. Construction on that terminal was completed in 1982. While Aéroports de Paris turned more and more toward a management and operations approach, rather than an airport builder, it began to take its expertise in all three areas overseas, winning airport construction contracts in such cities as Cairo and Abu Dhabi. Back in Paris, the completion of the de Gaulle airport allowed Aéroports de Paris to transform the small Le Bourget airport from a commercial airport to a business airport serving the high-end market.

After the heady growth of the 1970s, the beginning of the 1980s saw a slowdown in passenger growth. After several difficult years, which saw Aéroports de Paris losing passenger volume to the rapidly expanding ultrafast TGV train system, as well as facing increasing competition for the international and inter-European travel market from such cities as London, Brussels, and Amsterdam, Aéroports de Paris began to set new strategic objectives. With its vast real estate holdings, the company set out to recreate itself as an important hub for European transport, providing intermodal (air, rail, and road) services for both freight and passenger traffic. A major step toward achieving this objective was the commitment of the government-run railroad, the SNCF, to extend the TGV directly to the Charles de Gaulle 2 terminal.

Rebuilding Through the 1990s

The beginning of the 1990s, however, left the world air travel community in turmoil. The economic recession, and especially the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War and passenger fears for possible terrorist attack, caused a huge drop in air travel. The fall in passenger numbers continued to affect Aéroports de Paris into the middle of the decade.

By then, the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport had overtaken Orly as Paris's and France's primary airport facility, with more than 25 million passengers per year. The resulting strain on capacity was relieved, however, with the 1993 opening of a new terminal at Orly and the completion of a fourth wing at Charles de Gaulle 2, giving both Orly and Roissy the capacity to process 30 million passengers per year. The following year, the new TGV facility was put into service. In that year, Roissy's position as Aéroports de Paris's primary facility was reinforced when the government, responding to residents' noise complaints, imposed new limits on the number of operating hours at Orly. On the bright side, Orly underwent a face lift, at a cost of some FFr 90 million, restoring much of the airport's former luster.

The end of the economic recession that had affected France for much of the first half of the 1990s brought renewed growth to Aéroports de Paris, which saw its passenger volume top 60 million in 1996. The following year, Roissy won the right to increase its aircraft traffic still further, with the addition of two new runways judged to be in the public interest by the Transport Minister. If Aéroports de Paris was nonetheless straining its passenger capacity, the opening of the fifth wing of Charles de Gaulle 2, the construction of a satellite wing for that terminal's Hall A, the placing into operation of an Arrivals Hall in the Charles de Gaulle T9 terminal, all in 1998, and the opening of the south tower of Charles de Gaulle 2 in 1999, added the infrastructure to meet projected passenger volume growth for the near future. For the long term, however, Aéroports de Paris looked forward to converting its Cergy-Pontoise airport, some 38 miles from Paris, to an international flight facility.

Although passenger volume worldwide slowed in the late 1990s, due in large part to the economic crisis in Asia, Aéroports de Paris continued to mark increases in its passenger volume. The decision by Federal Express to open its new European service facility at Charles de Gaulle in May 1999, however, greatly enhanced Aéroports de Paris's position as a leading handler of air freight traffic. Although Aéroports de Paris remained committed to providing airport services to the Paris region, the company also began to look further afield. In February 2000, Aéroports de Paris was granted the right to acquire a ten percent stake in Beijing Capital International Airport, marking the company's first flight into the international scene.

Principal Subsidiaries: ADP Management (90%); Alyzia; Serta; France Handling (34%); Roissy SOGARIS SCI (40%).

Principal Competitors: Flughafen Frankfurt; Amsterdam-Schiphol; Alitalia-Linee Aeree Italiana, S.p.A.; BAA plc.

Further Reading:

  • 'Aéroports de Paris Wins Tunisian Airport Deal,' Reuters, January 4, 2000.
  • 'A Third Major Airport in the Wings for Paris,' World Airport Week, January 5, 1999.
  • Fainsilber, Denis, 'Aéroports de Paris et son partenaire GTM ont pris 10% du capital de l'aéroport de Pékin,' Les Echos, February 4, 2000, p. 19.
  • Tiller, Alan, 'Orly Travels Back in Time,' European, August 29, 1996, p. 26.
  • 'Turning Point in the Quest for Airport Growth,' World Airport Week, October 21, 1998.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 33. St. James Press, 2000.