Star Alliance member airlines are fueling the current resurgence in traffic at Ljubljana’s Brnik Aerodrome, the route operated by Turkish Airlines between Istanbul and the Slovenia capital somewhat improbably accounting for a year on year increase of 15% to the end of June, compared to like for like data for the same period during 2014. With 40,000 passengers being carried during the first six months of 2015 representing a load capacity of around 70%, the love story between Slovenia and Turkey is far from being a fleeting dalliance but a strong relationship consummated during 2006 when the embryonic service first took to the air.

I prefaced this post by describing the blossoming route between Turkey and Brnik as ‘improbable’, the popularity of Slovenia with Turkish nationals isn’t an easy one to explain but of course, the citizens of any country would be hard pressed to not be beguiled by the beauty of Ljubljana, the majesty of the Julian Alps and underplayed charm of Maribor. Slovenians enjoy their sunshine breaks so of course it is entirely feasible that much of the passenger uptake aboard Turkish Airlines’ services connecting the two countries will consist of tourists heading for Istanbul and the Turquoise Coast. From the nascent stages of thrice-weekly flights into Ljubljana to rumoured plans of services increasing from the current ten to twelve during 2016, Turkish Airlines continue to show great faith in consolidating its long-term tie-up with Brnik that has undoubtedly flourished since German-based airport operator Fraport acquired the aerodrome in 2014.

Regarded equally as highly are Swiss, the airline created after the 9/11-related demise of Swissair. Having previously flown into Brnik during the last months of Swiss’s forerunner, my abiding memory of the day was of so many mothballed airliners covered over at Zurich Airport, as if hibernating. The recent reintroduction of a year-round service linking Zurich with Ljubljana adds just the type of cachet to Brnik Fraport are seeking especially as their relationship with flag-carrier Adria Airways becomes more distant, although a high-degree of overlap nevertheless exists on the Zurich route which Adria also service. Demand does though remain high between Switzerland and Slovenia and the Balkans in general – Slovenia is NOT part of the Balkan peninsula – in part driven by a large diaspora from the former Yugoslavia residing in Switzerland.

Overall traffic at Brnik for the first half of 2015 has spiked by close to ten percent when weighted against data for the first six months of 2014. Despite the large statistical contributions from Turkish Airlines and Swiss Adria nevertheless remains the busiest airline operating out of Ljubljana through the diverse range of routes it operates, with charter services to the Mediterranean and Manchester benefiting from the larger aircraft the airline have recently hired on Wet Lease terms; the stark facts though remain that confirm Adria only own one of the twelve aircraft in service on its routes this summer are surely unprecedented within national flag carriers. With an intention to consolidate on impressive data by introducing further routes and undertaking material alterations to Brnik’s passenger terminal, Fraport’s ultimate goal of becoming the number one airport in the region is a realistic ambition. The need to insulate their business against setbacks and the inevitable failure of some routes must though be factored into Fraport’s short to medium-term business model; the danger of expanding too quickly at an airport that despite serving a capital city is only a step above a regional, Innsbruck-like facility must equally be cautioned against. Only by realising it has overreached itself can an airport, any airport, learn to settle for what it has rather than chasing unsustainable growth targets.

Ljubljana’s Brnik Airport can though justify in growing beyond the size of what would normally be commensurate for a country the size of Slovenia – what it has to adjudge is how far it is willing to expand. Situated at the gateway between Western Europe and the east, Slovenia’s position is perhaps unique. Whilst net migration currently records negative figures – more indigenous residents and foreign nationals currently leave the country than come to live in Slovenia – demand remains strong from Slovenia’s former colleagues in the Yugoslav Federation that supply migrant workers in particular to Ljubljana’s construction industry. Despite figures suggesting otherwise few Slovenians leave the country seeking work in the way Polish nationals have colourfully embroidered many areas of Western Europe with their work ethic and commercial enterprises. Slovenia does though benefit from a diverse range of natural gifts bestowed upon it that attracts tourists who seek cultural cities, vertiginous peaks and a bijou, sophisticated coastline all within a few hours of each other. Its unique landscape, history and geographic location ensures a country the size of Wales punches at a far greater weight on the international stage than its landmass and static population growth would usually expect. With these and many other defining factors in mind, intelligent market insight will ensure the continued, sustainable growth of Fraport’s operation of Brnik. Only the future though will be able to answer whether it proves to be better to make best use of what you have than seek what you may never find.

Further reading on this matter can be viewed at:

Ex Yugoslav Aviation: Star Alliance airlines contribute to Ljubljana Airport’s success