|Pula Airport expects strong year despite Russian exodus|
While entry into the European Union usually generates passenger growth at local airports, Croatia’s integration into the European family in July last year brought more challenges to Pula Airport than it originally anticipated. “We had some 360.000 passengers last year, but then came the EU entry on July 1. The effect on our tourism was immediate. Prior to joining, 40% of our arrivals were from Russia, and the new visa rules for Russia, Ukraine and Belarus meant that arrivals from these countries were down 50% in 2013 from the previous year. We tried hard to increase flights from other areas, and reported increases in key strategic markets such as the UK (up 32%), France (+12%) and Scandinavia (+28%), but the Russia visa issue was a severe blow”, Svemir Radmilo, Pula Airport’s CEO, told the “Digital Journal” recently. The airport is now actively looking for a solution in order to ease its reliance on Russian tourists.
So far this year, Pula Airport has been performing well and it recorded strong passenger growth in April. During the first four months of the year, Pula Airport handled 19.712 passengers, an increase of 17.2% compared to the same period last year. A key test for the airport will be the upcoming peak summer season. Mr. Radimlo expects to see some 50.000 passengers from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus this year, down from 130.000 in 2012. However, Pula Airport’s CEO warns, “The conflict in Ukraine may have a say in this as well. We have been speaking to our airline partners, and have targeted specific airlines to increase their flights to Pula. The Russians are still coming, but in much smaller numbers. Pre-EU it was in Boeing 747-400 planes, today it is in Airbus A320s, with a lot less capacity”.
|Pula Airport in 2012|
However, Pula Airport is on course to maintain the strong growth it has seen so far this year. As Mr. Radmilo explains, “We are delighted, for example, that Scandinavian will commence operations next week, a full month earlier than 2013. We recently welcomed Aer Lingus with direct flights from Dublin. Jet2 will launch services from Edinburgh this year, and from East Midlands in 2015. Germanwings will fly from Hamburg and Scandinavian will introduce two new routes from Gothenburg and Stockholm. Next year, Thomson will fly to Pula from Norwich, and we are close to introducing scheduled flights from Nantes and Bordeaux as well”. The CEO concludes, “There is strong competition, and not only from Trieste. Ljublijana is ninety minutes away, Rijeka is two hours, Treviso is a strong Ryanair base, and Zagreb is two hours by car. We have to approach airlines to persuade them of the benefits of Pula, offering them attractive prices, and more and more are willing to come”.