Slovenia is a small country with a population to match. Often compared in size and topography to Wales, many critics argue it is unrealistic for it to sustain two international airports, the scale and reach of Ljubljana’s Brnik-based airport generally seen as a pragmatic solution to its aviational ambitions. There does though seem to be a general misconception regarding the relevance to the role played by Maribor’s airport; it has never aimed to be a competitor to Ljubljana’s Joze Pucnik aerodrome or had an eye on the capital city’s place as top dog. Its geographic situation abutting Croatia, Hungary and in particular the Austrian province of Carinthia does though place the modern, fit for purpose facility – with spare capacity of which many regional rivals can only dream – as an ideal low-cost hub pinning much of its hopes on target markets outside of Slovenia’s sovereign borders.
A failed attempt in 2007 by Irish budget carrier Ryanair to establish a permanent link between Maribor and London Stansted effectively mothballed the Hoce-Slivnica based airport, restricting operations to summer charter services and cargo handling. Adria’s return to the airport after a fifteen year hiatus does come with an element of risk but represents an option it had no choice but to pursue, in the wake of a rumoured ten percent hike in landing charges levied upon it by Fraport, the German owner/operator of Ljubljana Airport. A business model that has seen the flag-carrier diversify its approach by essentially splitting into two entities encompasses an experimental low-cost component to complement its core, primarily corporate market. For this perspective to be maintained in the long-term it is essential for Adria to base its budget arm in Maribor, where landing charges allow a large degree of pricing flexibility for its services that run contrary to a more rigid costings structure consistent with Brnik’s landing charges.
A shuttle-service introduced to convey passengers from Graz Airport to Maribor, enabling passengers to utilise Adria’s route into Southend has ostensibly been window-dressed as a service for those seeking a connecting flight into London although, it could through cynical eyes be seen as a direct attempt to wrestle business away from the Styrian airport already operating services into Gatwick and London Luton. Introductory pricing of Adria’s service into Southend will surely though have be raised whilst it isn’t basing an aircraft in Maribor, the cost of flying an empty plane from Ljubljana before embarking on the journey to the Essex coast will become progressively prohibitive unless absorbed by increased ticket prices. Despite encouraging data and bullish five year projections the airline’s finances are still precariously placed, a reliance on leased aircraft to bolster its fleet this summer accounting for eleven of the twelve planes it will operate. Much will also depend on ironing out the considerable differences between the airline’s management and its front-line rank and file, industrial action scheduled by cabin crew to coincide with the inaugural Maribor-Southend flight only being averted at the eleventh hour. Serious underlying issues raised by Adria’s pilots have also recently surfaced in the media, some going as far to call the ongoing viability of the airline into question.
If Adria Airways are able to counter the scepticism surrounding its current and future plans that centre upon Maribor, the passenger load numbers for its experimental Southend service will need to do the talking to justify additional routes being added. The fact that Delavska hranilnica have so far failed to attract other airlines despite advantageous operating conditions suggest Maribor Airport had lain dormant for good reason.
Further reading on this matter can be viewed at: