It was with an element of disappointment that Adria Airways’ much trumpeted announcement of restarting services from Maribor Airport consisted of, in the end, just a single route to London(Southend), an airport that seems to have been doing very nicely somewhat under the radar. With Adria’s desire to move more towards a low-cost model, Maribor’s rejuvenated aerodrome looks ideally placed to perhaps follow in Southend’s flight-path to become a viable budget-airline hub offering routes that won’t overlap with Ljubljana’s Brnik and airports in nearby Austria, Hungary and Croatia, many of the areas from which it will hope to draw its custom.
Prior to Adria’s announced June-September service to London rumours circulated, and have subsequently intensified, of additional routes Slovenia’s flag-carrier will potential operate out of Maribor. I though suspect that the Maribor-London route is being used a litmus test, to confirm whether or not Slovenia’s second-city can stimulate the necessary uplift to make this and other potential routes viable in the future. Adria Airways simultaneously find themselves delicately placed at financial and ownership crossroads and will not want to over-commit to providing new routes from a reintroduced base within its own borders, until at least the data has been crunched from the London route.
Various locations for future services have been mentioned, some perhaps more out of hope than expectation but others seem to have gained more traction, despite not being the first places you would imagine that require access to the east of the country. Paris has been posited on various fora as being a potential destination but I feel the hearsay emanating from those suggesting The Azerbaijani capital Baku and services connecting Russia with Slovenia have the most credence. Why? Simply because of the reported Russian influence being exerted over much of Maribor’s(and Pohorje’s) ailing holiday accommodation which, as part of the portfolio of the now defunct Pohorje lift-company has seemingly been cherry-picked by the Russian owners of Terme Maribor, the spa facility now under the wing of gas-giant Gazprom. I therefore have no doubt that should routes linking Russia with Maribor become reality there would be nothing coincidental about it. Should Gazprom be liaising with Adria over flights(and there is no outward evidence to currently suggest it is) which in effect could fill its hotel rooms with spa-loving Russians, it would seem to be a win-win situation for all parties. Whether or not the for-the-time-being state-owned Adria are presently in the position to negotiate with companies in this manner, I couldn’t say. This may become more possible in a post-privatisation climate but should Gazprom, in theory, wish to buy a stake in Adria Airways, this would undoubtedly help expedite any commercial ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ tie up. It is though impossible for a non-EU nation to buy more than 49% of Adria, a deal which might be viewed as unattractive to a large organisation used to getting its own way. For the moment of course all this is purely conjecture but one suspects the gossip surrounding future routes caries some substance. The London route turned out to be Slovenia’s worst-kept secret so it would surprise few if next year flights from the likes of Baku and Kazan also wing there way into the country. Whether though Adria can source enough aircraft to use out of Maribor will be interesting, what with much of its current fleet only in the air thanks to sale and lease-back agreements.
Looking far into the future it is assumed that Delavska hranilnica, the union-backed savings-bank who hold the majority shareholding in Maribor Airport, will wish to attract additional airlines to operate out of a facility that has spare-capacity that other airports can only dream of. Some renovation work on the terminal is anticipated but the airport is modern and ready for business to an extent which makes it virtual dormancy in recent times hard to fathom. With the limitations currently and perhaps perpetually restricting Adria it would be unrealistic for them to expect a hegemonic hold over routes using Maribor; it is therefore hoped that they don’t make that a condition of their ongoing use of Edvard Rusjan Airport.
Additional material on this subject can be viewed at: Ex Yugoslav Aviation: More flights from Maribor in the offing