Friday, March 19, 2010

Macedonian aviation struggles

Vintage Ohrid had more flights than today
The “EU Observer” has named Macedonia as the black hole of European aviation. It says that the former Yugoslav republic lacks a national carrier and its population of 2.1 million people is too small to lure international airlines, which have also been discouraged by the high fees charged by the country's two commercial airports, Skopje and Ohrid. The portal notes that the airport lacks regional connections to Sarajevo but also suggests that the majority of those flying out of Skopje transit either via Belgrade, Ljubljana or Zagreb, making the trip much longer and costly. “Poor air links are preventing Macedonia from developing its tourist industry” the Observer notes. "Expenses for airport fees and fuel are 15 to 20% higher than in neighbouring countries, they rose by 25% during the last month alone", says Nikolas Kuemmerle, a former MAT Macedonian Airlines manager.

The Observer notes that Skopje is one of the rare European capital cities that does not have a direct air link with Brussels, the central city of the European Union. Although Skywings International began charter flights to the Belgian capital, the service has been terminated. There are no direct flights to Berlin, Paris, London or Madrid. "Flights to these cities are not profitable. The market is too small for the low-cost companies to come," Mr Kuemmerle said. Zoran Krstevski, the head of Macedonia's Civil Aviation Directorate says, “We are developing this sector in line with European standards and regulations for small markets. Improvement can be made only by regional approach, attracting foreign companies and permitting them greater freedom".

Although there have been various plans by other companies to set up an airline in Macedonia, none have materialised as yet. On Tuesday the CEO of Jat Airways criticised the Macedonian Aviation Directorate saying that the rejection of Jat’s planned Macedonian subsidiary, Aeromak, is unexplainable.

16 comments:

  1. country 2.1 milion people and such huge tourist potential they don't find atractive enough!!???? That is so stupid! Somebody obvoiusly doesn't want to see LCC flying to Skopje and Ohrid, who and why, it is to be seen and heard, but that so classic... Balkans story continues............................... If that ludicres goverment gave just little bit of money and advertised Ohrid and the rest of the country I am sure that would be flodded with tourists! Stupid excuses as always!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  3. i totally agree with you Anonymous .....
    it is everydays thinking of balkan countries 2.1 people is not too less.
    they are so stupid!
    i am my self from Struga-Ohrid this places really has a great potential!
    at least 2-3 weekly flights with Ryanair will be perfect!
    and big increase with passengers.

    hoever for now we just can dream on....

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  4. Yet another one of those misreports.

    First, re: national airline

    Looking at Macedonian air traffic figures for the last 10 years -- I still cannot find accurate figures for 2009, but assuming that they stand at 600K -- it is clear that having a national airline has not had a major impact on either the number of destinations on offer or number of passengers. With the exception of years 1999-2000, i.e. Kosovo effect, the figures have hovered around half a million pax/year. The author also undermines himself by mentioning Prishtina as a more successful airport when in fact Kosovo does not have a national airline either. Hence, the national airline argument holds no water for me.

    Second, re: high fees and expensive flights

    The published airport fees are comparable to other regional airports and in some cases lower. Needless to say, airlines will always complain about the fees, of course they would. However, I always find flights cheaper out of Skopje than Prishtina using the same airline. Maybe it's because airlines cannot use the Serbian airspace and have to cover more miles, but again I don't buy the argument that high fees are turning Macedonia into a "black hole."

    Third, re: Sarajevo

    The example of flying to Sarajevo could be turned around and probably says more about the aviation industry in Bosnia than in Macedonia. It's a non-argument in my opinion.

    Forth, re: Brussels

    Since when is Brussels a measurement of success. Tirana, Chisinau, Podgorica, Prishtina and Sarajevo do not have direct flights to Brussels. Macedonia is no exception in this regard.

    Fifth, re: 'huge' tourism potential

    I think my Macedonian friends need to become more realistic. Every time I watch Sky News or CNN for more than half an hour there's an advert about Macedonia (business environment, tourism or wine), so it's not like people have never heard of Macedonia. There is some tourism potential there, but that will not drive the aviation industry in Macedonia.

    There is a lot more room for air traffic growth in Macedonia, but this (mis)report seems to have completely misplaced the reasons for the current state of affairs.

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  5. Slovenia is even smaller.

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  6. Slovenia is even smaller with around 2.0.

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  7. I think busses are more profitable in Balkans :)
    people still does not know how fast and cheap can fly with plane so they do not bother much about this :)
    just few souls like us on blogs :)

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  8. Exactly Aleksandar, I use so much energy explaining to people about cheap flights FOR EXAMPLE from Zagreb to Pula, Zadar, or Split or Dubrovnik... Or Ryanair's sales...or flying with XXX company from point A to point C via point B costs almost the same as from point B to C, etc. Most of the people just do not have a clue about these kind of thins, Or booking a ticket on line instead paying to agencies a fortune to do it!!!! and so on and on....

    pozdrav imenjaku u Strugi i svim dobrim ljudima!

    p.s. I am flying from London to Krakow tomorrow with Ryanair for £15!!!

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  9. Everything is mixed in Balkan- Jat want to established company in Skopje and MGX is establishing own one in Nis!! It looks like one day, not too far, unfortunately, there will be no national carriers but alliances and LCC flying to Balkan destinations!

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  10. I'm an Asian who has lived in Macedonia for a few months before. And I'd like to add a few sparks to the flame, notably on your perception about tourism development.

    SUMMER vs. WINTER:

    Europeans, Balkans in particular, really need to get over the idea of "oh those flights/tours are gonna work in summer!" Gents, there are four seasons in your region. And it's not that you thrive in summer and hibernate for winter. An airline must have a balanced destination portfolio to ensure a steady stream of revenue season round. I had the honour to meet a couple of high level officials in the CAA, as well as a couple of ex-MAT employees. They were all enthusiastically introducing how beautiful their country is, and even how flights to Bourgas would work in July. I asked them, how would you rotate the A/C in summer and what's your contingency plan in winter?"

    "Err..."

    ACCESSIBILITY:

    Like it or not, you just can't ignore the purchasing power of Asians nowadays. I know you all hate package tourists. I hate them too! Give or take, cultural difference, that's how most Asians travel. I publically declare myself a big fan of Macedonia. I have more of Tose's song on my computer than of my native language. But what do I receive on the street? That stupid "Tsing-Chong-Ging-Gong" racists chants! Not once, but every 15m when I walk in your bloody capital with my Macedonian friend! I home stay in Macedonia. And thanks to that, I make a lot of good friends there. But I never seek to hide my hatred for those random idiots. A walk in downtown Skopje is like a stroll in hell. Now convince me, my fellow, how can you expect more tourists if your people are racists? How can the tourists feel comfortable if they got the whole Macedonian square of tourist starring at us? How can you convince us to spend money if those whom-think-they-are-cool boys bump onto my chest deliberately when I’m waiting for a taxi?

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  11. ALTERNATIVES:

    A portion of foreigners who would visit Macedonia, contrary to what you think, are fairly rich. I am not talking about Serbs DRIVING to Ohrid. I am talking about, say, Canadians or British. The poorer ones have less disposable income. If they want to maximize their experience, they go for the popular options such as Venice, Berlin, etc. Given that long haul flights are relatively cheap nowadays, those lower-middle classes in developed countries could even opt for Tokyo or Cairo. The question is not Macedonia vs. Croatia. The question is how Macedonia can represent an unique price to value ratio to a potential tourists.
    I am very lucky. My best friend is from Macedonia. That’s why I can see the stunning sights which I would never expect. But for a random guy who goes there by himself, what he will see are dirty buses and worn-out historical sights. That’s not how you want a tourist to perceive your nation and vow never to come back again, right? The whole TIMELESS campaign connects vaguely with the reality. You need to fix that.

    HARDWARE vs. SOFTWARE:

    I sample the current Aleksander the Great Airport. I was shocked to find that the lost-luggage service is yet to be computerized. They still count on making phone calls to outport and sticky-notes to trace a lost bag. Frankly, I can maneuver 5 MA60 for you for free next week and start you national airline. But without the supporting infrastructure, you will fail in half a year. It’s not a matter of whether you have a carrier. It’s a matter of how you want to position your firm and maximize the strength.

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  12. WORK ETHICS:

    The sense of timekeeping has to improve. During my stay, I always go to a meeting venue prior and never got admitted on time. Don’t bring any cultural argument in. Our UAE folks here would tell you there’s virtually no “inshallah” when it comes to crucial business meetings. There’s a fine difference between friends’ gathering and job professionalism. I humbly suggest my Balkan counterparts to focus less on their governmental ineffectiveness. Discipline yourself first. Work with statistical details. Improve your on-time record. Fix alcoholism. I guarantee you a hike in productivity. Btw, as offensive as it might sound, party reasonably. As any Goldman Sachs’ employee would point out: “a party is not necessarily for you to have fun. It’s a time for networking and business negotiation.” I am under the impression that play>work in the Balkan. But it’s always the hard working ones that laugh to the end. A bored, post-war Germany vs. a Marshall-aided Greece comes to mind.
    Really, there’s no point to scream at your government, even more useless to dream about Yugoslavia’s glory in the past. Face it like the Koreans or Vietnamese. Get over the war. Start from the basic. Start your own firm. And build it up. Google Seoul or Taipei in 1960 and 2000. Then you’ll know what I mean. The red tape is less that you thought in Macedonia. During a trial run, I could really register a firm, obtain a small financing, get it up and running in 6 hours. I really don’t know why some people just sit around and do nothing. (or drink rakija ^^)

    FINAL WORD:

    Again, I hope I didn’t offend anyone. I look forward to coming back to MK soon. I love that country. The solutions are here. You just need to apply it.

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  13. I have often wondered how much the other airlines in the region have been kept afloat by regions with poorer airline coverage - SJJ is always at the top of my mind in recent years (though this seems to slowly be changing)? JP, OU and JU do seem to have a lot of transit pax for this very reason, and would they go under if they lost this coverage?

    Also surprised that nobody has mentioned that PRNs spectacular growth (despite being close by) has not had an impact on numbers into SKP...

    @ Aleksandar

    Buses are likely to be more profitable due to the shorter distances people using them are going to be requiring it, and the cheaper cost of operating one vs aviation fuel etc.

    That's not to say there isn't a role for aircraft and an enormous increase of flights right across the exYU, but we don't have lots of flights in the region and people have become accustomed to using buses for their long-distance travel despite the relative uncomfortableness of an overnight bus trip!

    @ Uny

    Interesting perspective, you have raised many points especially the work ethic one which is part of the reason why the problems exist.

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  14. @Uny

    U have called the kid by the name we say in german... fully agree with you in each aspect.

    The big part of the society is still underdeveloped, not only in material aspects, but mainly mentally too. And as long as they are proud on their mentality and do not opt/seek for changes, they will never see any progress.

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  15. ...and there's unlikely to be any real change until TAV have completed their upgrades on both Skopje & Ohrid. Tragically though, this will only serve to add to the costs for airlines, where what is needed is VERY simple - Wizz Air Macedonia. They're the only one with the cost base (Ryanair have the same level of costs, but anyone from their dublin head office would be shot dead for the way they negotiate/do business) to operate successfully in such a relatively poor country.

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  16. @ Uny

    Coouldn't agree more at each aspect too! Great points made! Until thse things are "fixed" not only Macedonia, but Balkan will not progress!

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