Last year’s acquisition of Maribor’s Edvard Rusjan Airport by Slovenian trade union backed savings bank Delavska hranilnica was at the time heralded as the antithesis to the prevailing winds of change sweeping through the country, driven by the desire from the nation’s incumbent administration to decouple from the state fifteen of its best known publically owned enterprises. By inviting legally binding bids from interested parties that more often that not were foreign based, a significant tide of descent to the whole privatisation process was voiced by large sections of Slovenian society who justifiably saw the shrinking of the state as a process running contrary to the ideals of secessionists who fought so vehemently for Slovenia’s independence, now almost a quarter of a century ago.

When part of the Yugoslav federation Slovenia often found itself at the back of the queue. Despite it being universally recognised as the most productive republic, its relative affluence was often siphoned off by Belgrade in attempts to lend legitimacy to the lie that Yugoslavia was an equitable cooperative of republics who countrywide shared similar standards of living. More often than not Slovenian ingenuity and a work-ethic more Teutonic than Balkan kept Yugoslavia afloat although, Tito wasn’t averse to accepting copious amounts of foreign aid from countries he liked to play off against each other, all the while managing to extricate the nation from the Warsaw Pact alliance of Soviet satellite nations and the West without compromising Yugoslavia’s Not Aligned status.

It was therefore with some fanfare that Maribor Aerodrome reverted in ownership to an investor from within Slovenia’s borders, offering hope that recapitalisation of many of Slovenia’s many ailing assets could be sourced intranationally rather than foreign investment being seen as the only realistic option. Alarmed at the very real prospect of a significant piece of the country’s aviation infrastructure being controlled from outside Slovenian territorial borders Delavska hranilnica stepped in, the mood music sounding more harmonious once this small, chronically underused airport had been acquired to help ‘defend national interests’. It should not though be assumed that Edvard Rusjan Airport was on its knees, far from it, but its dormancy compared to several regional competitors ensured there was work to be done to attract scheduled air-services to complement its modest roster of private charter and freight operations that left a modern and fit for purpose terminal almost redundant. It is too early to label Adria Airways’ return to Maribor after a fifteen year hiatus as the start of the airport’s renaissance but rumours continue to abound suggesting flights to Russia and Azerbaijan, amongst other destinations, are slated for 2016 should Adria’s litmus test route between Maribor and London(Southend) be a resounding success. Early ticket sales have exceeded the airline’s pragmatic projections for a service due to run from June until the end of September.

It has therefore come as something of a shock that set against this upward trajectory of Maribor Airport’s fortunes news has since broken of Delavska actively seeking foreign strategic partners to take the airport to the next level, perhaps realising the scope of investment needed fell outside of the sensible limits it has placed upon its own business model. For the time being Chinese involvement – to a level not divulged – fell at the final hurdle but is expected to be just the first investment vehicle interested in an asset that not so long ago was held up as an exemplar of Slovenian defiance, in the face of an increasingly uncertain future for many of its best known state-run enterprises. It should be added that whilst the hitherto privately-owned Maribor Aerodrome wasn’t one of the ‘gang of fifteen’ companies earmarked for denationalisation, it led by example proving solutions can often be found closer to home rather than seeking a foreign panacea. Should Delavska hranilnica be in a hurry to sell all or part of their shareholding in the airport it is hoped strategic partners from within Slovenia will again put the heads above the parapet, to head off a potential scenario which has played out at Ljubljana Airport, now completely owned by the German-based Fraport group.

Further reading on this matter can be found at:

Vecer: Delavska hranilnica seek strategic partner(s) for Maribor Airport