The acquisition of Ljubljana’s Brnik-based airport by German operator Fraport wasn’t without controversy. Many Slovenians were dismayed at one of the country’s prime and most recognisable assets falling into foreign ownership, something the forefathers of the nation’s independence would presumably have been horrified by. Nevertheless, in a state as small as Slovenia, it is vital for their primary airport to be a positive first-impression for travellers transiting through its terminal, either en route to their ultimate goal, to those returning home or the many holidaymakers who choose the county as their vacation point.
In perhaps the most extreme reaction to Fraport assuming control of Brnik, the Slovenian trade-union backed saving bank, Delavska hranilnica, countered the prevailing winds of foreign ownership by purchasing the majority stake of Maribor Airport, seemingly in defiance to those positing that the requisite money and expertise needed to take state-run companies(or those in the private-sector considered to be in a distressed state) to the next level could only be sourced from abroad. Whilst Maribor’s airport for the time being at least is a rival in name only to Brnik, an announcement is expected today from Adria Airways who are expected to resume a handful of scheduled services from the east of the country, to complement the modest roster of holiday-season charter flights operating out of Edvard Rusjan airport. At a level of investment around the €900,000 Delavska hranilnica’s commitment to Maribor Airport isn’t purely a symbolic gesture to keep an aviation presence in the country’s second city, without a realistic return expected on their speculation. With so many problems surrounding the banking sector in Slovenia Delavska will indeed wish to prove a point that solutions can be found from within the country but also, to utilise a modernised facility that is fit for purpose and ready for business. It is hoped that today’s announcement is just the beginning of a broader, diversified strategy to develop an otherwise dormant tourism sector in the Maribor region.
With Fraport’s holding in Ljubljana Airport around the 97% mark, the absorption of the remaining shares is considered to be a formality and, will precipitate the aerodrome being delisted from the stock market. Such hegemony will allow Fraport to push on with plans to modernise the customer experience at check-in and security, rightly described as currently resembling “bottlenecks”. Further down the line a stratagem for expanding hospitality and even the construction of a second terminal show that Fraport mean business, recognising the geographical importance of Brnik’s position as a gateway to the emerging Southeast Europe market. For those like myself who remember Brnik in the late nineties as a charmingly quiet airport, albeit perhaps not befitting of what would be expected from a capital city, the prospect of a new terminal and the expected raft of additional routes will certainly come as a culture-shock. That isn’t to say though that such developments aren’t long overdue.
Despite the seemingly encouraging data being reported by Fraport for the first two months of 2015, including a €338,000 profit and close to 150,000 passengers using the airport, these figures have been branded as disappointing, with lower-than-expected occupancy rates aboard Adria’s services being cited as the main cause. More reason, then it would seem, for Fraport to carefully judge its relationship with the country’s flag carrier. On the one hand it, for the time being at least, allies much of its short-term projections in tandem with the performance of Adria, an airline rarely out of the headlines and currently reduced to selling and leasing back many of its fleet. With so much uncertainty surrounding Adria, it will be interesting to see if the soon-to-be announced routes out of Maribor will be in addition to similar services operated from Brnik or, instead of. Additional services will mean the sourcing of extra aircraft, a costly exercise if they are primarily being used on routes out of the country’s second airport, where immediate or long-term success is far from guaranteed. Fraport will therefore want to retain a positive, if somewhat arms-length relationship with Adria but increasingly seek to pull away from its reliance on an airline that by sneezing, could give Fraport an unpleasant cold. With new services already slated for the summer from the likes of Swiss, Finnair and Turkish Airlines, Fraport already look to be insulating themselves against any further turbulence Adria might encounter.
Further reading on this matter can be viewed at: Slovenia Times: Fraport to modernise Brnik Airport