Already flying into Ljubljana from London Luton and Charleroi the plans of the Budapest-based airline to operate further services out of Brnik appear to have had their wings clipped – Maribor being now seen as a viable alternative to the Fraport-owned facility whose revised landing charges since their 2014 takeover of the once state-owned airport seem to have scared off low-cost carriers, especially if the rumoured 10% spike in fees levied against Adria are to be believed. Discussions are ongoing between both parties and whilst a formal agreement has yet to be brokered a deal is widely expected to be concluded in due course. Despite the raft of routes operated from Brnik that connect Ljubljana with the likes of Zurich, Istanbul and Podgorica a noticeable paucity of services linking Slovenia with Scandinavia and the northern reaches of Germany has been seized on by Wizz Air, areas of Europe that the expected routes from Maribor are anticipated to service. In a generic press release that offers few clues to its involvement with Maribor Wizz Air insists it seeks hubs from which to operate its flights that offer the best value to the airline, savings which can be passed on to the consumer at the point of sale. Styled as an airline that is willing to operate from primary, secondary and regional airports – in bijou Slovenia Maribor would be considered both a secondary and a regional facility – a modus operandi predicated on the utilization of lesser known airports and those close to frontiers that can draw upon cross-border patronage would seem to be an ideal fit with Maribor. Within striking distance of Hungary, Austria and Croatia there is therefore little need to rely upon the numerical limitations of an indigenous Slovenian population of around two million citizens. Wizz Air have though made it quite clear it will only deal with airports willing to be reasonable over landing charges; in other words, being more accommodating to the airline than merely a meeting halfway compromise. Throughout the former Yugoslavia Wizz Air is playing hardball with the primary airports in Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo in attempts to harmonise its baseline costs with the low fares that set it apart from regional rivals.
The determination to introduce a roster of scheduled and charter services out of Maribor will hopefully bear fruit, although the danger of relying on one airline to revitalize the fortunes of a chronically underused but fit for purpose facility should be avoided, in the event that passenger numbers are insufficient for services to be considered viable in the long-term. A financial fighting fund to be implemented and backed by municipalities local to the airport appears to be the sweetener needed by Adria to not only elongate its service connecting the east of the country with London Southend but also base an aircraft in Maribor, slashing the operating costs associated with flying an empty aircraft from Brnik before its onward journey to the Essex coast. Greater marketing of Maribor as a tourist destination must though be declared a priority on the back of disappointing data indicating only 4% of passengers on Adria’s London-Maribor service are British – 4% of an average 60% cabin load. With the majority of patronage being drawn from Croatians, Austrians and Slovenians returning home from the UK, it is extremely difficult to see how Maribor and its immediate environs actually benefit from the route.
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