Monday, October 23, 2017

Belgrade and Zagreb airports set for busy winter

The two busiest airports in the former Yugoslavia, Belgrade and Zagreb, are preparing for a busy winter season, which will see them handle more flights than ever before, following on from what was a record summer. Both will witness the arrival of new airlines, additional frequencies on existing services and an upgrades in equipment used by carriers.

Belgrade Airport will see at least three new airlines maintain flights to the city, which were absent last winter season. They include Atlasglobal, Hainan Airlines and Transavia, while Slovenia's VLM Airlines is also expected to launch services from Maribor, although tickets are yet to be put on sale. This winter, Wizz Air will maintain flights to an additional three destinations - Malta, Friedrichshafen and Hannover, while easyJet will add an extra weekly service from Geneva for a total of three per week commencing mid-February. Transavia, which introduced three weekly services from Amsterdam this April, will double its frequencies from late February. Other additions will include an extra three weekly flights from Dubai, operated by Flydubai, for a total of seven per week commencing November 25, while Qatar Airways will also maintain daily services from Doha, up from four. The Qatari carrier will boost capacity from its Airbus A320 to the A321 jet on the route.

Greece's Aegean Airlines plans to boost capacity to Belgrade with the carrier to run three weekly services to the Serbian capital with a mix of Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft. As a result, its Belgrade route will move to mainline operations and will no longer be flown by Olympic Air's Dash 8 turboprops. Furthermore, both Israiar and Arkia Israeli Airlines will continue to maintain flights from Tel Aviv over the winter. On the other hand, Air Serbia will cut down on its operations and will no longer run services from its hub to Abu Dhabi and Istanbul unlike last winter season, however, it will continue to fly to Venice, which was launched this summer.

Several carriers have committed to increasing both frequencies and capacity to Zagreb Airport when compared to last winter, with El Al Israel Airlines recently announcing it will extend its seasonal summer flight programme between Tel Aviv and Zagreb by a month, until the end of November. Services will be maintained once per week. Furthermore, as previously reported, Croatia Airlines has extended its seasonal flights to Barcelona and Lisbon until early January, while Qatar Airways will uphold its two daily service throughout the winter, up from last year's ten weekly flights. LOT Polish Airlines will increase frequencies to Zagreb by maintaining eight instead of six weekly services, all of which are scheduled to run with the Embraer E175 aircraft, although the airline has shown to be flexible with its equipment and regularly deploys larger aircraft depending on demand.

Carriers that will be operating to Zagreb Airport this year, but were absent last winter, include Emirates, with a five weekly service from Dubai, as well as Norwegian Air Shuttle, which will extend its seasonal services from Stockholm and Copenhagen. Furthermore, Lufthansa's low cost unit Eurowings will add its fourth destination to the Croatian capital, from Dusseldorf, starting October 31. Sales for the new route have been encouraging, resulting in the airline's decision to run the service three times per week instead of two, as initially scheduled. On the other hand, Monarch Airlines, which launched seasonal flights from the United Kingdom to Zagreb this summer and planned to extend them throughout the winter has collapsed and discontinued all operations. In addition, both ČSA Czech Airlines and Brussels Airlines have limited their operations to the Croatian capital and will now run flights only during the summer. Zagreb Airport is targeting passenger growth of 8% in 2017, although it is expected to surpass this figure.

EX-YU Aviation News will publish planned airline modifications for all of the major airports in the former Yugoslavia in the coming weeks. The 2017/18 winter season begins this Sunday and runs until March 25, 2018.

Gulf Air to appoint Krešimir Kučko as CEO


The national carrier of Bahrain, Gulf Air, plans to appoint Croatia Airlines' outgoing CEO, Krešimir Kučko, as its new chief. Ahmad Qarata, a member of the Bahraini National Assembly, confirmed the news, but warned that parliament will attempt to block the appointment. Mr Qarata said that a Bahraini national should lead the airline instead. Gulf Air's former CEO, Maher Salman Al Musallam, resigned in June. Gulf Air is said to have courted Mr Kučko after he managed to turn around Croatia Airlines from a loss making business into a profitable company during his tenure. Mr Kučko will step down from his current post on November 4. The unprofitable Bahraini carrier, once the Middle East's largest, has been in steady decline since 2002 after Qatar withdrew from the airline, followed by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in 2005 and Oman in 2007. The airline has since been battling with debt and massive losses. Gulf Air currently boasts a fleet of 28 aircraft, with 55 on order, including sixteen Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sarajevo to start terminal demolition in late Q4

Sarajevo Airport will begin clearing its old Terminal A building (pictured) at the end of the year to make way for the multi million euro expansion of its Terminal B facility, as passenger numbers continue to grow. "All tender procedures concerning the demolition and clearance of the old Terminal A structure have been completed. We have also secured necessary approval from the competent federal ministry, so demolition work should begin soon", the airport's spokeswoman, Sanja Bagarić Arnaut, said. She added, "Temporary makeshift facilities are already being installed around the airport. They will be used by employees and will also house a restaurant and other services". Terminal A was utilised for commercial traffic between 1969 until the outbreak of war in 1992. It has since been used primarily for office space by airport staff. Plans to transform it into a low cost terminal have been shelved.

The twenty million euro expansion of the existing passenger terminal will result in an additional 10.000 square metres of space spread across four levels. The length of the entire terminal will total 110 metres, up from the current 68, while the number of check-in desks will be increased from seventeen to 28. Furthermore, the expanded facility will boast seven gates, up from the existing four, and will have an expanded departures and retail area. Upon completion, the terminal building will have the capacity to handle two million passengers. Currently, Sarajevo can welcome one million travellers per year, with the airport set to surpass that figure next year. The demolition of the A building and the expansion of Terminal B will run for some eighteen months.

Sarajevo Airport terminal upon project completion

Sarajevo Airport has recorded strong passenger growth so far this year with 769.261 travellers handled during the first three quarters, an increase of 13.8% on the same period in 2016. Several new airlines have commenced services to the Bosnian capital this year, including Atlasglobal, Nesma Airlines, Wataniya Airways, TUIfly Belgium and Wizz Air, with Qatar Airways to follow by the end of the month. SAS Scandinavian Airlines has announced it will introduce seasonal flights between Copenhagen and Sarajevo next summer season. Commenting on the presence of low cost airlines, Ms Bagarić Arnaut said, "There are several budget carriers operating to Sarajevo Airport, such as Pegasus Airlines, Flydubai, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Eurowings and Wizz Air. Each airline carries out its own commercial analysis of the market and determines the viability of introducing new flights. We offer incentives for all airlines to encourage them to fly to Sarajevo, however, low cost carriers usually opt to operate from smaller airports with less traffic, which are not burdened by additional taxes".

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Chinese mull Užice Airport takeover

A Chinese conglomerate with investments in aviation and tourism has expressed interest in taking over Užice's Ponikve Airport in Western Serbia. The airport boasts a new passenger terminal but has no commercial traffic. The Chinese company, which has not been named for confidentiality purposes, recorded a turnover of six billion US dollars last year and has a stake in an airline. The interest comes following a visit by a twenty-strong Chinese business delegation to Užice last week. Commenting on the potential takeover of the airport, Linda Wang, who headed the delegation and is also the economic advisor to the Mayor of Užice, said, "We will take the investment proposal for Užice Airport back to Beijing, where it will be analysed by experts. If the project is profitable, talks will continue with the authorities".

Užice Airport is the second in Serbia to boast a new terminal building with little or no traffic. The airport was initially to open for commercial use in August of last year, following the completion of the new passenger terminal. "The runway is 3.100 metres long, of which 2.200 metres have been overhauled. The length is more than enough to accommodate larger aircraft. However, the main problem, and the reason we are still unable to handle any flights, is the lack of a perimeter fence", the General Manager of Užice Airport, Saša Savić, said. A further three million euros are required to complete the work, however, funding issues have delayed the opening until further notice. Local municipalities have called on the government to provide the necessary finances as the airport would boost both tourism and the local economy. "We are trying. We have a development plan, ambitions, big hopes and few resources. We built a terminal to try and bring the airport up to an acceptable standard. We had big plans for 2016 but unfortunately the funds that were promised to complete the runway overhaul and set up a fence never came. We have deferred those plans and now we can just sit and wait to see what will happen", the airport's General Manager said.

The Mayor of Užice, Tihomir Petković, noted that the Chinese have been presented with two investment models, "PPP [Public Private Partnership] is one option, and we are also ready to sell the airport, under the condition that we are given strong guarantees that there will be considerable investment in the entire airport complex". Užice Airport was destroyed during the 1999 NATO bombing. However, the Serbian government and the European Union have jointly invested over one million euros into the creation of a project masterplan, while significant funds were put into the removal of unexploded bombs around the airport's runway. Its control tower was reopened in 2013 following a major overhaul by the Serbia and Montenegro Air Traffic Services Agency, while Belgrade Airport also donated funds.

The Užice region is home to some of Serbia's most exported goods. On the other hand, it is also close to several major cities in the former Yugoslavia, with Sarajevo and Belgrade just 118 kilometres away. During the 1996 summer season, JAT Yugoslav Airlines operated a two weekly Belgrade - Užice - Tivat service. Over the past few years, small private aircraft have used the airport during the daytime. However, questions have been raised whether Užice Airport will have the same fate as  Kraljevo, in central Serbia, which opened a new modern terminal building in 2012 which has not been used since.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Adria Switzerland to focus on ACMI, reduce fleet

Adria Airways' Swiss subsidiary, Darwin Airline, operating as Adria Airways Switzerland, is likely to become a pure ACMI (aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance lease) provider following what it sees as mismanagement by the former majority shareholder Etihad Airways. The revelation comes following reports by local media that the carrier will lay off a quarter of its workforce and is in a difficult financial state. Speaking to "Austrian Aviation", Klaus Platzer, the CEO of Adria Switzerland, who also acts as a financial advisor to the Slovenian national carrier, said, "We have made a strategic decision to act as an ACMI provider in the future, which is why we can only guarantee scheduled flights until the end of the year". The airline currently maintains two scheduled services from its base in Lugano, to Geneva and Rome.

Under its restructuring plans, Adria Airways Switzerland will cease operating ATR72 aircraft at the start of 2018 and will only retain six Saab 2000 turboprops. The four ATRs were brought in by Etihad Airways in 2014 from Nordic Aviation Capital in order for Darwin to expand its operations out of Geneva. Darwin has also been hit by the loss of its two main ACMI partners, Air Berlin and Alitalia, with the former to cease all operations by the end of the month and the latter declaring insolvency. However, the airline has secured an ACMI contract with Swiss start-up PowdAir from December and has been operating its aircraft on a number of Adria Airways' flights within the region. "Darwin complements us perfectly. Our fleet now ranges from the 140-seat A319 to the 50-seat Saab 2000. We are thus much more flexible. We now have the right aircraft for every situation. Likewise, we can do better in the wet-lease market because we now have a suitable aircraft for every need", Adria Airways' CEO, Arno Schuster, said recently.

Upon the Slovenian airline's takeover of Darwin, the now former Adria-appointed CEO of the Swiss company, Heinrich Ollendiek, said that the carrier would grow out of Lugano but would not limit its operations just to the one city. While layoffs were not ruled out, Mr Ollendiek said at the time that some jobs would be spread between Lugano and Ljubljana, while there was also a possibility for new employment opportunities. Zvone Petek, the Honorary Consul of Slovenia in Zurich, who previously served as Adria's Country Manager for Switzerland for over two decades, noted in a recent editorial for the "Travel Inside" magazine that, "4K Invest [owner of Adria Airways] purchased Darwin in order to merge it with Adria and become a reliable future partner for Swiss and Lufthansa. 4K would be weary of acting against Lufthansa or buying airlines without their blessing. Rather, it seems that 4K is purchasing airlines in Central Europe of strategic importance to Lufthansa". Since then, Lufthansa has pounced to purchase parts of carriers formerly owned by Etihad Airways, including Air Berlin and Alitalia. Adria Airways acquired a 99.1% stake in Darwin Airline in July this year through its subsidiary Adria Airways Switzerland. The Lugano-based Darwin operated as Etihad Regional for the past three years, after the Arab airline acquired 33.3% of its shareholding.