Croatia Airlines will start its summer expansion tomorrow morning with the first of four new routes to be launched out of Zagreb. The carrier has described the move as "one of the biggest and most important developments in Croatia Airlines' history". The airline will inaugurate services to Lisbon tomorrow morning, while flights to Milan will be launched in the afternoon. They will be followed by Prague on Friday and St. Petersburg on June 2. It marks Croatia Airlines' first major network expansion in over four years. The carrier's CEO, Krešimir Kučko, said, "This is a natural progression following the successful completion of the restructuring process, which has enabled us to expand our network. Of course, our hopes are that numerous tourists from Portugal, the Czech Republic, Russia and Italy will make use of these new travel opportunities to visit Croatia".
The Croatian carrier faces direct competition only on flights to Prague. It has concluded a codeshare agreement with Star Alliance partner TAP on its Lisbon service in order to bolster its operations to the Portuguese capital. TAP suspended services between the two cities this March. On the other hand, the Croatian carrier will maintain four weekly flights to the Czech capital and will compete directly against Czech Airlines, which itself introduced the service only recently. The two will operate flights on the same days twice per week. However, unlike its Czech rival, Croatia Airlines offers an extensive domestic network which will appeal to tourists heading to the Croatian coast. Meanwhile, over 21.000 passengers flew between St. Petersburg and Zagreb between 2010 and 2014 by transferring through other airports. “It is our strong belief that the new Croatia Airlines service to St Petersburg will be in demand both among Russian and Croatian tourists. Every year many Russians choose Croatia as their holiday destination. With the new route opening, travellers will now be able to visit other points in Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina using convenient connecting flights via Zagreb", Evgeniy Ilyin, St. Petersburg Airport's Chief Commercial Officer said. Croatia Airlines' CEO has noted that the carrier is considering introducing services to Moscow next year.
All of Croatia Airlines' new services will operate on a seasonal summer basis. According to Mr Kučko, the new routes will not be maintained throughout the year due to a lack of aircraft, however, this could change in 2017 with the purchase of new regional jets. Croatia Airlines has wet-leased a Trade Air Fokker 100 to accommodate its network growth this year. Later this summer it will also introduce seasonal summer flights from Dubrovnik to Pula and from Pula to Zurich. Croatia Airlines anticipates handling some 1.97 million travellers by the end of 2016 and recording a 6% jump in figures.