Historical notes

The origins

On July 16, 1970 the limited company SACBO (acronym for Società per l'Aeroporto Civile di Bergamo – Orio al Serio - Milano Bergamo Civil Airport) was established, chaired by Attilio Vicentini with Carlo Pesenti as Vice President, the participants of which were the Chamber of Commerce, the Orio al Serio Municipality, Aeroclub, Unione Industriali, Banca Popolare di Bergamo, Credito Bergamasco, Banca Provinciale Lombarda and the airline Itavia, with a simultaneous promise of membership which the Municipality and Province of Bergamo subsequently formalised. Two months later the newly formed SACBO submitted an application for approval to the Ministry of Transport for the establishment of the third Lombard airport, providing for new shares in the spring of 1971 (from 10 to 200 million of lire, supported by financing from three shareholding banks) to address the works required to equip the airport with the operational facilities that would enable it to start the business. Exactly a year later after the completed formation of SACBO, on July 16, 1971, the Superior Council of civil aviation expressed a favourable opinion giving the go ahead to connections with Rome, Cagliari, Alghero and Catania, and entrusting the management to the airline Itavia. The document of suitability for civil air traffic and for the human habitation of the facility bears the date of March 20, 1972. The evening of the same day Itavia flight DC9 arrived from Rome Ciampino and the next day at 9:26 took off from the Rome airport, inaugurating the season of scheduled flights. The official startup of commercial aviation operations allowed SACBO to start developing management strategies which ensured the operational continuity of the airport. During the 70s the presence of the Air Force on the airport grounds was a major advantage for the airport management company of Milan Bergamo Airport, both in form of technical-operational collaboration, and for the provision of the latest equipment for flight safety. The Financial Statements of the first year of the civil aviation business were more than satisfactory, also because in addition to the planned scheduled flights and those diverted from Linate, almost exclusively due to fog, there were a small but significant number of charter flights , which corresponded to 30% of the 127,286 passengers who passed through. The movement of air cargo proved at once to be important, confirming the great interest from the local businesses present around Milan Bergamo Airport. This obviously referred to shipments of goods of limited size and weight, similar to postal packages, which were placed in the hold of passenger scheduled aircrafts. Goods which from a simple niche would later become a market of great logistical importance for an increasingly more extensive and diversified area. 

The first years of operation

The next step for SACBO was represented by the recognition of its role as airport operator by the State Authorities, which was essential to obtain the benefits of airport charges and landing taxes, and the multi-year approval to operate the airport. Law 746 of December 27, 1975 recognised the legal status and assigned the thirty year concession starting from January 9, 1976. At that point SACBO was able to decide on the financial commitments required to complete a series of upgrading works, starting with work on the taxiway and the restoration of the aircraft apron, which was to be followed by works on the airport terminal and the purchase of airport service equipment. In 1977 they proceeded with the construction of a 1,800 metre temporary runway, then intended to be used as a taxiway, to allow redevelopment of the main runway. And on March 1, 1978, with the dissolution of the Flight Department of the 1st Aerial Region, the Air Force remained with the only secondment assigned to telecommunication services and flight assistance. The launch of the Milano Bergamo Airport "80" Program, relative to the plan of works to be carried out on the grounds, came about almost simultaneously as the official inclusion of Milan Bergamo Airport in the Lombard airport system, together with Linate and Malpensa. The airport remained closed from October 2, 1979 to January 1, 1980 to facilitate the extension of the runway to 2,800 metres, the entire length of which only became fully operational in 1983 after the installation of the ILS instrument landing system. Flights started again on January 2, 1980 after the approval of the new radio aid equipment.


The 80s

In December 1980, six months after the Ustica air disaster that involved a Itavia DC9, the airline that enabled the business to start in Milan Bergamo Airport ceased all flight activity. It would be necessary to wait for almost a year to resume connection with the capital. From November 1, 1981 connection was re-established by Aermediterranea which connected with Rome Fiumicino. During this long break there was the joyous event of the visit of the Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, in the places of his predecessor John XXIII. His arrival took place on April 26, 1981 aboard a DC9-30 of the 31st wing of the Italian Air Force. A memorable date for Milan Bergamo Airport, which was in a very delicate management phase, characterised by the need to ensure (from the shareholders and from the three shareholding banks) the essential financial support for the basic works aimed at qualifying the airport from an operational point of view. After the arrival in 1983 of Giovanni Cavalli as chairman of Sacbo (he would remain in office until 1992), focus was concentrated on the infrastructure. On February 26, 1986 the inauguration of the new airport terminal took place, which was annexed to the new control tower. While charter traffic consolidated, supported by the seasonal movements of snow tourists and those heading to the lakeside summer resorts as well as by the constant flow of religious tourism, Milan Bergamo Airport suffered from discontinuity with Rome connections. On October 26, 1987 Alinord took over from Alitalia the operation of the Bergamo-Rome route, operating three daily flights with a Fokker 28 aircraft and landing at Ciampino Airport. In the summer of 1987 there was a new turning point in the relations between SACBO and SEA, based on the mutual sharing of a Lombard united airport system, which paved the way for entry of the management company of Linate and Malpensa Airports in the share capital of SACBO. The 1990 FIFA World Cup event accelerated the development of facilities, with functional and architectural upgrading works of the airport terminal and the external access routes. At the end of the 90s Milan Bergamo Airport was able to finally take off, with a significant growth in business with the opening of the major airport of Malpensa 2000.

The 90s

In the early 90s SACBO set the foundations for the final development of the airport infrastructure and logistics. An undertaking which began with a thorough analysis of the role of the Bergamo airport in the national air transport scene, which at the time was primarily focused on courier traffic, a sector which strategically contributed in maintaining the potential of the airport in anticipation of the expected increase in passenger movements. In 1993, Ilario Testa took on the appointment as chairman of Sacbo, which he held for five consecutive three-year terms, and he set the goal of reorganising and developing services, which led to an immediate and substantial increase in activity, which was seen in the results of the operating profits. The first important decision-making change was the launch in November 1995, by Sacbo, of a three-year investment plan equal to 80 billion lire, which enabled the completion of the extension of the airport terminal with new check-in desks and two boarding piers, and the provision of new offices. From 1995 the annual results showed progressive growth in profits and in 1997 the annual turnover for the first time exceeded the share capital amount. Despite no transfer of flights from Linate to Malpensa, coinciding with the opening of the new hub on October 25, 1998, which should have enabled Milan Bergamo Airport to manage new routes within the Milanese airport system, Sacbo put in place the appropriate synergies to facilitate the development of passenger traffic by exploiting the central position of the Bergamo airport in the Lombardy area. In 1999 the airport exceeded for the first time the annual quota of 1 million passengers.

The arrival of low cost flights

In 2000 it was decided to double the check-in area, but above all business contacts were initiated which would result in Milan Bergamo Airport quickly becoming one of the most advanced airports for low-cost air transport. The months following the attack on the Twin Towers of New York on September 11, 2001 are dramatic for international air transport, with a fall in passengers and lots of airlines were hit by a relentless crisis that led to job losses, even in external service providers, and in some cases bankruptcy. Just at this stage the "low cost" strategy project expired and negotiations were concluded to bring to Bergamo the ultimate expression of the new fares policy which involved no frills, based on quality, essential services, safety and punctuality, with the elimination of any excess, of was not strictly necessary. In 2001, thanks to the high standards of service achieved in recent years, the airport obtained from TÜV the Quality Certification for the passenger sector, in preparation for receiving low cost airlines. On February 14, 2002, Saint Valentine's Day, Ryanair inaugurated in a somewhat original manner its operations to Milan Bergamo airport, by departing a flight from Frankfurt Hahn with 80 young German engaged couples onboard, one of whom married on board. Two months later the flight between Bergamo and London commenced, which attracted the immediate interest of travellers and convinced the board of Ryanair that Milan Bergamo was the right choice as the airport of reference for Northern Italy. After Ryanair operated flights started, the number of low cost carriers grew, drawn by the efficiency of Milano Bergamo Airport and by the fast delivery times of services provided to aircrafts and passengers. The promotion and development strategy enabled numerous carriers to contribute to an increase in traffic, creating the conditions for a real expansion of the catchment area and the gradual development of the destination network in the Euro-Mediterranean area. In August 2002 Milano Bergamo Airport substituted for the closure of Linate, which was necessary to facilitate the resurfacing of the runway as well as a series of modernisation works. On February 6, 2003, in the presence of its CEO Michael O'Leary, Ryanair inaugurated its Milan Bergamo base, promoting it as its southern European hub. The announcement was accompanied by the launch of a series of connections (Barcelona Girona, Bruxelles Charleroi, Hamburg Lubeck, Paris Beauvais, London Luton) in addition to those already operated with Frankfurt Hahn and London Stansted.



A decade of strong growth

The expected increase in the movement of passengers matured in 2003, with a transition from 1.2 to 2.7 million on an annual basis. From 2002 Milan Bergamo Airport underwent exponential growth, governed by a careful management and programming policy aimed at the development of additional services. In the same year Sacbo obtained a forty-year lease from Enac, with expiry in 2042, an important milestone for setting, in agreement and collaboration with local authorities, the new development strategies aimed at a careful policy on the gradual reduction of the environmental impact on the area surrounding the airport grounds. After the approval of the Airport Development Plan, which occurred with the enactment of the relevant ministerial decree dated December 2004, Sacbo set new goals, represented by the levelling of the activity carried out by courier airlines who continued to play an important logistical and support role in employment and in the local economy. They decided not to construct the cargo centre in favour of development works to the facilities and airport services for passenger traffic, safety and environmental mitigation. Following the success achieved by Milan Bergamo Airport and the recognised management merits; the University of Bergamo decided to award Ilario Testa with an honorary degree in Management Engineering at the opening ceremony of the 2005/2006 academic year. Throughout the years Ryanair met growing success and appreciation, achieving the expected results from its commercial strategies, particularly from Milan Bergamo Airport, which became an example of high performance. With a planning always targeted at maximum efficiency in operations and safety, the Irish carrier gradually added new aircraft to the base forming a permanent fleet at the airport, and thus enabled the expansion of the connection network and the programming of frequencies in accordance with market demand. A steady growth which resulted in Ryanair reaching, in the summer of 2010, the milestone of 25 million transported passengers from the start of operations at Milan Bergamo Airport, out of a total of 100 million passenger movements from and to Italian airports in the same period. The Ryanair model became the object of study and investigation, as well as the operational management of flights which require strict compliance with the turn-around times, that is the time between the arrival of the aircraft on the apron and its subsequent departure, in an extremely tight time interval.

The low cost phenomenon

The development program of Ryanair operations at Milan Bergamo Airport is not an isolated example. The success of the Irish low cost carrier induced many airlines to bet on the catchment area of the Bergamo airport. Basiq Air, brand of Transavia, flies to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the Dutch hub. Jet2.com, Bmibaby and Flybe contributed to the increase in routes to Great Britain, as do Air Berlin and Hapag Lloyd Express with Germany. Skyeurope also came onto the scene, with the important landing base in Bratislava-Vienna, and Sterling Airlines, to Copenhagen and Stockholm, in addition to the activity of Volareweb.com which guaranteed a high frequency of daily flights with Rome Fiumicino, a connection that Alitalia operated since May 2005. In the first half of the decade new companies entered onto the operational scenario of the Bergamo airport. In May 2004 Wizzair entered the scene, and consolidated its presence at the Bergamo airport by gradually expanding the network of connections with eastern Europe becoming the second operator by number of routes flown after Ryanair. The low cost model, decidedly innovative, as well as characterising the extraordinary development of Milan Bergamo Airport, was credited with fully revisiting the air transport business, enabling a considerable number of people, from all over Europe, who were unlikely to have used a plane for their journeys, to travel at an affordable cost.

The courier base

From the early years of commercial activity, cargo handling very quickly assumed enormous strategic value for the catchment area of the airport. The goods handled by the couriers are included in the category of documents and small packages, pharmaceutical products and spare parts, all of them sharing the requirement of urgent delivery and of being consistent with a safe and guaranteed logistical process. DHL Aviation was the first of the major express couriers to operate at Milan Bergamo Airport, arriving in 1976 and then consolidating its business over time and contributing in strengthening their role in this specialised field. In 1994 DHL Aviation transformed the gateway into a sorting and transit centre with the dimensions of a hub, feeding the flow of small parcels coming from and going to local addresses. The use of wide-body aircraft allowed for the channelling of large quantities of parcels and satisfied the growing demand of shipping consignments which required simplified procedures and fast delivery. DHL Aviation contributed significantly in making Milan Bergamo Airport one of the most important courier type air cargo handling centres. A long-term relationship made stronger on the renewal of the contract signed on November 23, 2006, which extended the presence of DHL Aviation at the Bergamo airport, by allowing on one hand the continuation of business which held high strategic value for the local economy, and the maintenance of direct and indirect employment levels, and on the other hand met the mitigation expectations of environmental impact relative to the reorganisation of nighttime operations. DHL Aviation, an integral part of the DHL network for international daily air connections, was the first to be awarded "Full" certification, which is the highest award combining the benefits of AEOC certification, authorised economic operator for customs simplifications, and AEOS certification, authorised economic operator for safety. These certifications allowed for the streamlining of customs clearance procedures, reduction in management costs and entitlement to operational benefits. Since 1989, the UPS facility of Milano Bergamo Airport has been the main gateway of this express courier in Italy, which over time has become extremely important at a local level in terms of development and employment. All UPS international air shipments leaving and arriving from the north-west pass through the Bergamo airport, which is connected to the air hub of Cologne/Bonn, where the largest sorting centre of UPS in Europe is located. The express courier has an operational facility at Milano Bergamo Airport which is equipped with the latest control and handling technology, a sorting capacity which is constantly adapted to requirements and an area which is fully dedicated to the screening of packages thanks to a series of sophisticated radiogenic equipment. In addition to ensuring efficiency and safety standards, UPS has always demonstrated the maximum flexibility in programming its activity in line with local needs. This has important strategic value for the system of businesses and companies who rely on the urgent delivery service and more in general for all relations with partners and foreign markets. After having started connections with medium cabotage aircraft, such as the Fokker 28, in the early 90s UPS introduced ninety 727 aircrafts of large loading capacity, remotorised and reconditioned in accordance with technical regulations which comply with current European and international provisions on noise reduction and improvements in aerodynamic efficiency. In the following years UPS employed high performance aircraft, by relying on new generation fleets and choosing transformed and modernised machines, such as the Boeing 767-200, with a 42 ton loading capacity and capable of flying over 6,000 km non-stop. Operating since 1982 with its own base at Milano Bergamo Airport, the cargo airline Miniliner, provided transport services for small postal packages until it ceased activity in 2015. Sacbo, after having decided to give up construction of the Cargo Centre, limiting the goods business to just two courier carriers, obtained collaboration for the limitation of movements concentrated during nighttime. The operational choices, combined with the use of the latest generation aircraft, equipped with low noise engines and technical and aerodynamic solutions to increase their flight efficiency, allowed for the containment of the environmental impact of aircraft activity, which is constantly checked through the monitoring network.


The new control tower

Milan Bergamo Airport uses an advanced radar system, installed by ENAV (National Air Traffic Control Company) and approved at the end of a flight inspection campaign in July 2005, which ensures the implementation of approach and surface radar services, and a new Control Tower, equipped with the latest technology for the management and control of air traffic, which became fully operational in January 2010. Both works involved an investment of € 20 million from ENAV and € 2 million from SACBO for connection infrastructure. The airport radar system of Milan Bergamo Airport is one of the most advanced equipment aimed at ensuring better and safer air traffic management during the runway approach phase, takeoff and for the movement of aircraft and vehicles on the ground. The approach radar (primary and secondary) enables the optimisation of descend and ascend routes by means of the so-called “vectoring”, which consists of directing aircrafts on the runway by following the shortest and most efficient trajectory. The primary radar signals flow into the multi radar tracking system at the Milan Area Control Centre (ACC), extending the regional coverage from ground level to Milan Bergamo airport The secondary radar enables the exchange of information between the transponder installed on board the aircraft and the ground radar, ensuring the management of aircraft and vehicles on the ground even in conditions of poor visibility. The combined use of new radar equipment, which meets the latest European standards, corresponds to a reduction of flight times for incoming aircraft and those waiting to take off, which results in a lower acoustic and environmental impact.

SACBO's quality certificates

In 2004 SACBO reached important milestones: the Enac certification for the compliance of the airport to ICAO standards, and the quality certification granted by TÜV Italy in accordance with the requirements of ISO 9001:2000, for the design and provision of ground support services for aircrafts, passengers, luggage and goods; management of facilities and relevant centralised systems; ticketing management; coordination of airport operations. Recognition of quality standards was completed in March 2008 when SACBO was awarded the environmental certification on the basis of ISO 14001. A certificate of conformity which completed a strategy of constant attention to the environment and to the territory aimed at ensuring the compatibility of aircraft activity within the framework of the development plan of the Bergamo airport. Following analysis of the various types of impact on the operating conditions of processes and airport services, all environmental aspects were certified and the following fields in detail: noise pollution, air emissions, water cycle, waste management, use of raw materials and natural resources (through the containment of energy and water consumption), natural and ecological aspects, radiation protection and electromagnetic emissions, light pollution. The environmental certification puts Milan Bergamo Airport on a par with the most advanced airports at an European and international level in terms of services, operations and facilities. To this is added the accreditation of the first level of "Airport Carbon Accreditation" (ACA) certification of ACI Europe (Airports Council International Europe, which represents over 450 airports in 45 European countries) in relation to the use of energy resources and the relative reduction of fuel consumption and air emissions under the operation activities of the airport. This award is a prerequisite to the development of the "Carbon Footprint", which translated the resources used by the airport operator in CO2 equivalents produced. A fundamental step in order to identify further actions aimed at obtaining further reductions and consequent savings.

The new facilities

As a result of the constant growth in passenger movements, Sacbo proceeded with a series of upgrading works both inside and outside of the airport, in order to maintain quality and efficiency standards in line with its objectives. On March 28, 2006 the third pier for boarding passengers came into operation. The new operational structure, positioned in the area west of the two pre-existing piers, constructed respectively in 1998 and 1999, services the departure lounges reserved to Schengen flights and it allows for the management of the simultaneous boarding of two aircrafts through flows channelled on a double corridor, separated by a glass partition, and two independent staircases which access the apron. The commencement of operation of the third pier ensured the best management of boarding, enabling one to go directly on to the apron and to the aircraft access ramps. On July 23, 2007 the new check-in area was inaugurated, connected to the BHS system for 100% control of hold baggage, which became operational in January 2003 and which over the years gradually increased capacity from 1,500 to 2,700 bags/hour.

Spring 2008 marked the passing of the baton between Ilario Testa and Mario Ratti, who directed Confindustria Bergamo from 1995 to 2000 and was on the Board of Directors of Sacbo from September 2004, who then became the chairman of Sacbo on the eve of the launch of the important upgrading works aimed at transforming the image of the Bergamo airport. Between December 2009 and March 2010 the new departures terminal was opened, first part of the expansion and refurbishment plan of the airport, based on a design which included the arrivals area on the basis of architectural elements designed with the aim of characterising and identifying the image of the airport. The first phase of work on the terminal, carried out through an investment of € 15 million from Sacbo, enabled the provision of spaces and surfaces aimed at ensuring a better management of passenger flows. The simultaneous increase of dedicated lanes to security checks contributed to further improving the optimal performance already recognised at the airport. The new departures area of the passenger terminal was built on two floors, on a surface which more than tripled to 10,500 sqm, in part subject to restructuring, of which 6,000 on the upper level with spaces for new commercial units which increased the selection of food and retail offer in a setting which is more welcoming and comfortable for passengers. Works which modified in substance and quality the image of the Bergamo airport, enabling a functional system for operational needs, with 11 dedicated security lanes and 23 boarding gates, a welcoming Vip Lounge, a new Sala Amica and a smoking area with a patio. The walls of the departures terminal are covered with maxigrafica (wallpaper) which features the baggage label bar code IATA BGY of Milano Bergamo Airport. The colour code distinguishes the individual areas: green for the area dedicated to Schengen flights, orange for the extra-Schengen flights, blue for the perimeter relative to security checks and passenger flows. The subsequent extension of the arrivals area, decided by Sacbo, provided for an addition of 4,000 sqm, and the construction of a multi-floor car park connected to the airport. Upon completion of works, the total surface of the airport went from 30,000 to 63,500 sqm. In the five years 2009-2014 Sacbo invested a total of € 190 million in facilities, all through self-financing. The works carried out and those envisaged are included in an upgrading design of infrastructures, in order to increase their efficiency and to create commercial areas enhancing the "non-aviation" segment which through the years, in all the major airports throughout the world, has taken on a more significant role in terms of service profitability. The investments undertaken by Sacbo were part of a management policy constantly aimed at producing value for and on the territory, with the purpose of designing an airport architectural profile to become a prestigious business card against a backdrop of the skyline of Città Alta (Upper City). On the corporate front, the decision taken by Sea to sell a 19% share of its shares increased the Bergamo Voting Trust to 69,02. On March 14, 2011 the Bergamo airport was renamed "Il Caravaggio Milano Bergamo International Airport". The naming decision, ratified by Enac, coincided with the celebrations of 40 years of business of SACBO and the act of recognition of the status of civil airport. The pairing with Caravaggio conferred, in addition to growth and affirmation of the Bergamo airport in the air transport scene, the label of full internationalisation


A success story

Since 2001, the advent year of low cost traffic, Milano Bergamo Airport has experienced steady growth in passenger movements reaching 9 million in 2013, consolidating fourth position in the ranking of Italian airports and taking on a strategic function in terms of mobility for east Lombardy. A development sustained by the gradual improvement of operational performances, which were accompanied by an increase in the satisfaction index of services provided and by the extension of the connection network. Milan Bergamo Airport represents 8% of provincial GDP, accounts for 3,500 direct employees (500 of which are of the airport operator) and, according to research studies, exceeds 20 thousand with the surrounding industry on the territory, also considering air freight activities, making it the first courier airport and the third Italian courier for the cargo sector. Together with the benefits provided by low cost rates applied by most air carriers operating in Milano Bergamo airport and the punctuality index of flights, accessibility is the factor which contributes to the convenience of the trip even in logistical and transfer terms, thanks to the central position of the Bergamo airport along the A4 motorway axis and close to the interconnections with the major arteries and road traffic routes. Milan Bergamo Airport figured in the top ten of the best low-cost airports in the world in the 2014 edition of the World Airport Awards, whose ranking takes into account 39 types of services, including registration, arrivals, transfers, purchases, security. This position confirms the level of quality recognised in 2013 by the German Institute for Quality and Finance, from whose analysis resulted in it being the Italian airport with the highest score in terms of performance and satisfaction with services. After the upgrading works of flight infrastructure with cutting-edge technologies, executed between March 8 and June 2, 2014 limiting the suspension of operational activities to only 20 days, extension work on the airport terminal started, with the preliminary opening of the new arrivals area in August 2014, and the construction of an additional 5000 sqm area and two new boarding gates in the departures terminal, the completion of which is to coincide with Expo 2015. To this is added the accreditation of the first level of "Airport Carbon Accreditation" (ACA) certification of ACI Europe (Airports Council International Europe, which represents over 450 airports in 45 European countries) in relation to the use of energy resources and the relative reduction of fuel consumption and air emissions under the operation activities of the airport. This award is a prerequisite to the development of the "Carbon Footprint", which translated the resources used by the airport operator in CO2 equivalent produced. A fundamental step in order to identify further actions aimed at obtaining further reductions and consequent savings.