Nantes concession to be decided soon: part one – no new airport, but existing one to be improved


VINCI Airports has built up an admirable track record in its homeland of France where it manages 12 airports under varying models. It is not easy to operate there as local Chambres de Commerce, which historically managed them on behalf of the French government, invariably want to retain a say.

One of them is at Nantes, one of France's most economically significant cities, where VINCI has managed the Atlantique airport (and another one at nearby Saint Nazaire) under concession since 2011. Good progress has been made, and passenger numbers have more than doubled in a decade.

But VINCI's long concession there was tied into a contract to build and manage a new airport - a project which was cancelled by the government in 2018 following large scale protests, and occasioning a compensation claim from VINCI, which had started work on the project.

The negotiations for a new concession on the Atlantique airport are almost complete and all the indications are that VINCI will be successful again. But France will be left with an old and unsuitable airport to be expanded piecemeal; and at cost by way of a new terminal and a runway extension, and with no guarantees that protests will not return in respect of the latter, as well as being out of pocket to VINCI's compensation claim.

There may be no winners in this debacle.

This is part one of a two-part report.

  • VINCI Airports is expected to be granted a new concession to expand and modernize Nantes Atlantique Airport in France.
  • The original concession was tied to the development of a new airport, which was cancelled by the government in 2018.
  • VINCI Airports, the incumbent operator, is the only party to have submitted a final offer for the concession.
  • Nantes Atlantique Airport has experienced significant growth in passenger numbers, doubling in the past decade.
  • The airport primarily serves as a low-cost, short-haul oriented airport, with a focus on international flights.
  • The French government's ban on domestic air services on routes with alternative train travel of less than 2.5 hours may impact future development options for the airport.


  • Nantes Atlantique Airport's concession to be granted again shortly.
  • The original one was for 55 years but was tied to the development of a new airport there, which was cancelled.
  • The existing concessionaire, VINCI Airports, looks set to win this tender as well.
  • The Atlantique airport has grown strongly in the past decade - it serves one of France's most economically significant city regions.

The reconcession of Nantes Atlantique Airport will shortly be decided

A concession to expand and modernise Nantes Atlantique Airport in France is expected to be decided soon. The project will be worth EUR450 million and will involve the refurbishment of its terminal and lengthening of its runway.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic Nantes was historically the ninth or tenth busiest airport in France, serving the sixth largest city in the country with a metropolitan population (in the Pays de la Loire region) of more than one million people: an important economic and demographic centre in western France.

The incumbent operator is reported to be the only one to have submitted a final offer

Numerous parties expressed interest during a project that was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but in the end there was only one final offer, from the incumbent operator VINCI Airports, which was also to have developed the new Nantes Airport (Notre Dame des Landes) - before that project was pulled by the government following protests, and which occasioned a compensation package for VINCI.

The opposition to the new airport was led by The Greens, Ségolène Royal, a French politician who was the Socialist Party candidate for the Presidency of France in the 2007 election, and Arnaud Montebourg, another politician and one who held high office, although the French Socialist Party supported the new airport.

The new airport, initially to be built to handle four million passengers annually, was intended to replace an existing one, which was deemed to be congested and a security risk.

VINCI has operated Nantes Atlantique since 2011

VINCI Airports has operated the Nantes Atlantique Airport since 2011, along with the neighbouring Saint-Nazaire Montoir Airport, two of 12 airports in France, which are a mix of concessions and other management contracts.

Active airports for VINCI Airports (VINCI Concessions) in France

VINCI argues that these two regional airports have helped improve mobility and boost the economy in the west of France by doubling both the number of airlines operating out of the airport and tourists travelling to the area, and supporting approximately 21,000 jobs, based on 2016 data.

There was 10% per annum average passenger traffic growth between 2011 and 2019

At Nantes passenger traffic increased from the 3.2 million when VINCI took over the airport in 2011 to 7.2 million in 2019, at an average growth rate of 10.2% per annum (and 16.6% in 2019).

Nantes Atlantique Airport: annual traffic, passenger numbers/growth, 2011-2023

Seat capacity at Nantes has not yet been restored to pre-pandemic levels, and currently stands at 89% of the 2019 level.

Identifies as a low cost, short haul oriented airport

Nantes Atlantique is mainly an international airport, with more than 64% of seat capacity in that domain, although that figure falls somewhat short of the 86% international seat share for France as a whole.

Low cost carriers account for 81% of capacity, which is almost twice the national ratio, while 86% of capacity is on unaligned carriers (compared to 56% nationally).

At the airport 94.5% of flights are of the length 0-4 hours, and only 5.5% of the length 4-8 hours as measured by seat capacity. (There are no comparable statistics for France as a whole.)

Nantes Atlantique can therefore be identified as a low cost, short haul oriented airport. Its current route map is shown below.

Nantes Atlantique Airport: network map for the week commencing 19-Jun-2023

Volotea the leading airline, but influence of Transavia France growing

With a continuing absence of indigenous French budget airlines other than Transavia France and French Bee, it is not surprising that foreign LCCs are the most prominent.

But in this instance it is not Ryanair, easyJet or Wizz Air that tops the capacity table - rather, it is the Barcelona-based Volotea, formed by the Spanish LCC Vueling's founders Carlos Muñoz and Lazaro Ros, that has a quarter (26%) of the capacity.

Volotea has eight A319 and A320 aircraft stationed at Nantes, one of its eight bases in France.

Nantes Atlantique Airport: system seats for all airlines/business models, week commencing 26-Jun-2023

Transavia France is increasingly becoming a major player though, operating 35 routes from Nantes Atlantique Airport in summer 2023, stationing seven Boeing 737-800s with 189 seats at the airport, and its workforce at the facility has increased from 66 to 144 employees, year-on-year.

French government domestic air services ban must impact on future development options

One of the problems the airport and VINCI will face in the future is the decision taken in May-2023 by the French government - an immediate ban on domestic air services on routes where there is alternative travel of less than 2.5 hours by train.

The decree prohibits air links between Nantes, Bordeaux, Lyon and Paris Orly. There is every likelihood this mandate will be extended further to other routes where there are rail 'alternatives.'

This issue was reported in Down and out in Paris and London: hub airports are in the sights of environmentalists, a CAPA report from Jun-2023.

In part two of this report CAPA will consider how VINCI has a history with Nantes that goes beyond its management of the Atlantique airport; how early compensation to VINCI for the abandonment of the new airport project was in the order of EUR200 million, but then escalated; that NNDLA would have been the first greenfield airport in decades; and that VINCI has been left with an old airport and a hefty bill to modernise it.

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