Adria Airways would be forgiven for casting envious glances towards Ljubljana’s Brnik airport, for so long its default aviation partner, albeit tacitly and without any formal or informal financial tie-up.
Whilst Adria urgently seeks investors or even a full-scale takeover to arrest its alarming decline, Slovenia’s principal airport – since being acquired by German operator Fraport – can only view its future with optimism. Adria Airways and Brnik were always in my mind a holy alliance, the first two impressions of Slovenia received by travellers using the airline from England to Slovenia. It now though seems that Brnik needs Adria less than the airline needs it, Fraport perhaps perturbed by Adria’s deteriorating finances and the need for it to operate several of its aircraft only after sale and lease back agreements have been entered into. The very fact that Fraport reportedly wants to hike Adria’s fees for using Brnik by an unsustainable ten percent would in many eyes bear out the assertion of Brnik not wishing to get dragged down by an ailing airline or put too many of its eggs in one basket. I have long though suggested that Adria could negate this hike in landing-fees by using Maribor Airport for many of its routes, especially now that Delavska hranilnica, the Slovenian trade-union backed savings bank have recently purchased the airport based in Slovenia’s second-city. DH will not just have acquired Maribor airport to prevent it falling into foreign ownership but also, to grow the not inconsiderable potential of a chronically underused facility. Instead of flying into Graz to access eastern Slovenia, why not Maribor? Surely many of Adria’s charter-flights can be operated out of Maribor, especially as in a country as small as Slovenia many of its citizens will travel from the Maribor region to catch flights from Brnik. Using Maribor will presumably cost Adria less and link it to an airport that is Slovenian owned, surely garnering it more slack and sympathy than it is currently afforded by Fraport.
Despite much of the current news surrounding Adria being negative, a glimmer of hope has today emerged regarding passenger numbers it has carried to and from Kosovo. While many will regard this as a barely a surface ripple compared to the turbulence currently buffeting Adria, it should be remembered that the emerging South Eastern Europe market is one of the most untapped in the world today. Kosovo and Slovenia have long enjoyed good relations, both countries viewing each other as important import/export markets. Perhaps sensitive to how it uncoupled itself from the Yugoslav state, Slovenia has from the earliest opportunity recognised Kosovo as an independent country after its secession from Serbia, something the power-brokers in Pristina haven’t been able to say about many of its neighbouring states, as well as several throughout the world. Whether the motivation from Adria has been purely to tap into this benevolence I couldn’t say but nevertheless, the figures speak for themselves. A not inconsiderable growth of 20% in passenger numbers using the Ljubljana-Pristina route, trumping bigger-hitters in the aviation sector such as Turkish Airlines and Easyjet accounts for the 180,000 passengers carried in 2014. Despite Slovenia now benefiting from EU membership more than perhaps the EU does from it and, the freedom of movement laws allowing migrant workers to travel from one member country to another to seek employment, many of the ‘guest-workers’ typically found on Slovenian building-sites and similar are from its fellow former Yugoslav republics, in particular Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo. Adria has therefore tapped into and benefited from this market of workers and their families travelling on the Ljubljana-Pristina route.
Rumours of Qatar Airways being interested in acquiring Adria Airways have so far just been media speculation. Adria has the potential, due to its unique location between east and west and as a hub for South East Europe to become again an airline disproportionately sized in relation to the country from which it hails. It is sincerely hoped that either through its own efforts of weathering the storm or by being acquired by an industry behemoth, that this Star Alliance member can once more become a regional and pan-European force to be reckoned with.
Additional reporting on this issue can be found at: Ex Yugoslav Aviation News: Adria passenger numbers up in Kosovo