BBA Aviation Services, UK owner of the world's largest fixed-base operator (FBO) chain Signature Flight Support, is in negotiations to acquire a Europe-based FBO as it actively pursues expansion on the continent.

The move comes as Signature's London, Luton Airport facility opens its 6,800m2 (73,000ft2) hangar designed to accommodate six Boeing Business Jet-size aircraft.

Signature president and chief executive Beth Haskins says outside the USA, where Signature has 42 FBOs, Europe is the largest business aircraft market and has huge appeal for the company. "We have three established bases - London, Paris and Southampton - but want to expand into other key business and commercial centres where we can offer a mix of handling or full FBO support, through partnerships or preferably outright ownership," she says. The European FBOmarket is highly competitive, concedes Haskins, with several players chasing too few opportunities. Signature recently lost out to ExecuJet in the acquisition bid for Zimex Flight Support in Zurich. The company also plans to establish an FBO in Toulon, France, once planning issues have been resolved.

Haskins says: "We are only interested in half a dozen centres in [Western] Europe at the moment, as are our competitors, but we will look further east in the next three years as the market picks up." The choice of location, Haskins adds, is customer driven. "If enough are jumping off at a given city to build a critical mass", that is where Signature will focus.

In the USA, meanwhile, Signature is planning to increase its FBOs to between 55 and 60 within a decade. "We will then have saturated the US market," says Haskins.

Source: Flight International