Adria Airways has voiced its contentment with 70% occupancy figures on its flagship Maribor-London Southend service, vindicating its pursuit of a low-cost business model in conjunction with the majority shareholder of Edvard Rusjan Airport, the trade union-backed savings bank Delavska hranilnica. Passenger uptake on the flag-carrier’s embryonic service connecting eastern Slovenia with the Essex coastline has justified the belief shown by Adria in Maribor’s airport, an unusually underused facility considering its modern, fit for purpose condition and excellent links to neighbouring Hungary and Croatia and in particular, the Austrian province of Styria.

The service slated to finish at the end of September is continually being monitored with an announcement in the next six weeks that’s widely expected to confirm an extension to the London link, the potential for it to become a yearlong route seemingly enhanced by Maribor’s mayor offering €3 million of funding to underwrite existing and future Adria services channeled through the airport and Hoce-Slivnica, the township in which the aerodrome is based. This financial stimulus could herald Adria permanently basing one of its aircraft in Maribor, confirming its commitment to an airport it has returned to after a fifteen year hiatus and, lowering current unsustainable operating costs associated with flying an empty plane to Maribor from Ljubljana’s Brnik Airport. Whether a fund to defray the cost of future Adria operations from Maribor has been hurriedly established in an attempt to dissuade the airline from shelving plans to create a second Slovenian hub is pure conjecture, although quotes attributed to Mark Anzur, President of Adria’s Management Board suggesting future services from Maribor will depend on outside beneficence are akin to the area being held to ransom: either part-subsidize future lines into Maribor or risk losing altogether the presence of Adria and other prospective airlines in the future.

The purchase of Maribor’s Edvard Rusjan Airport has been a steep learning curve for Delavska hranilnica, otherwise unversed in the complicated and costly machinations involved with operating a business in the aviation sector. Previously unaware of protocol almost expecting airports and the regions from which they operate to bankroll additional routes, Delavska will have to walk a diplomatic tightrope of making their airport attractive to other airlines whilst at the same time not alienating Adria. It would though be unrealistic for Slovenia’s flag carrier to expect exclusivity, especially when its own future remains so uncertain and with employee discontent continuing to bubble under the surface. It is assumed by many observers that Delavska hranilnica, by definition an institution predicated on national interest and workers’ rights, acquired Maribor Airport as a defiant riposte to the current programme of denationalisation undertaken by Slovenia’s incumbent administration that has made fifteen of the country’s best known public companies available, in effect, to the highest bidder. The fact that interested parties in the ‘gang of fifteen’ were seen to be most likely based overseas than impoverished Slovenia heightened union fears of foreign takeovers resulting in wholesale job losses and pension rights. Delavska did prove that solutions could be found from within the country’s borders instead of abroad but having perhaps bitten off more they can chew, are ironically now seeking a long-term exit strategy either through a strategic partnership to share the burden or, as seems increasingly likely, the eventual complete disposal of its shareholding in Maribor Airport.

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Vecer: Adria Airways and Delavska hranilnica assess future options