Someone in authority at Adria Airways has possibly, just maybe, been reading this blog. Either that or, as is more likely, a monumental coincidence has occurred in today’s breaking news coming out of Maribor, reporting that Adria are once more poised to use the recently refurbished airport in Slovenia’s second city. I am not ashamed to say that this is something I have repeatedly called for over the last few months, for two reasons. Firstly, a seemingly ailing airline – that operates much of its fleet only after several sale and lease-back agreements have been executed – cannot afford the reportedly ten percent hike in landing-charges the new owners and operators of Ljubljana’s Brnik-based airport, Fraport, wish to impose upon it. In such a small country as Slovenia where the options for using alternative airports are narrow, thus giving the power very much to the airport operators(in this case Fraport), Adria could be forgiven for thinking that they have no other option but to acquiesce to such seemingly punitive and unmanageable financial demands.
At the latter end of last year Maribor Airport was itself the subject of a successful takeover bid by a local trade-union backed savings bank, giving Delavska hranilnica significant credit in the bank with many alarmed by the amount of Slovenian businesses and hitherto state-owned concerns falling into foreign hands, with those in the ‘gang of fifteen’ earmarked for privatisation particularly vulnerable to such an eventuality. Delavska hranilnica are not outright owners but hold a majority shareholding, complementing Aviofun’s stake in the airport. With ambitious plans and levels of investment that a return will be keenly sought from, scheduled flights will inevitably be encouraged to bolster Maribor’s albeit modest roster of charter and cargo traffic. It is therefore a resource ripe for Adria to exploit, with more advantageous terms on the table than those at Brnik and whilst it is highly unlikely the airline will move lock, stock and barrel to the eastern side of the country, relocating some flights or the introduction of new routes to operate out of Maribor would show ambition on both Adria’s and the airport’s part. Whilst scheduled flights into Brnik often accommodate passengers in transit to other countries, charter routes will presumably continue to predominate at Maribor for the time being but a diversified approach from all parties will hopefully reap dividends.
Ahead of the official press conference slated for Thursday at Maribor Airport, rumours inevitably point to the reintroduction of a service to London, a short-lived route operated several years ago by Ryan Air, Maribor supposedly being seen as a more convenient location for those wishing to come home to or visit Slovenia than the nearby airport at Graz, a few miles over the border in Austria. Why the route between Stansted and Maribor failed isn’t clear but passenger figures, disadvantageous landing charges levied under the auspices of previous owners and the then antiquated nature of the airport’s terminal are all possible factors. I have read of Maribor Airport’s gleaming new terminal being rather cruelly likened to a Potemkin Village but notwithstanding local sentiment and politics, the airport is now fit for purpose and has openly stated that favourable conditions(landing charges) will be more attractive than are found elsewhere. If two of the three hurdles which perhaps ended the previous Ryan Air service have now been overcome, all that remains are for levels of uptake to vindicate the faith shown in the airport by Adria and Delavska. The details that emerge from Thursday’s press conference are eagerly awaited.