The prospect of Maribor’s Edvard Rusjan Airport once again receiving commercial flights tentatively moved a step closer, with news that its new Slovenian registered but Chinese backed ownership have acquired VLM Airlines, the former Belgian-based carrier that has reemerged on the aviation scene following its 2016 bankruptcy.

VLM’s fleet of seven Fokker 50 planes formed part of the acquisition package and with the purchase of the airline’s assets and name by Maribor Airport’s owners, the logical conclusion to be reached is that some or all of the turboprop jets will be operated out of the former Delavska hranilnica-owned aerodrome. Having previously serviced flights to Germany and the United Kingdom VLM could revisit these locations or others more apposite to Maribor’s location, subject to essential criteria being satisfied for the granting of an Air Operator’s Certificate. It is debatable whether the revived VLM will retain its moniker – its new owners potentially seeking a clean-slate untainted by past shortcomings. Either way, the addition of further aircraft capable of long-haul routes, particularly those into China, seems to be the primary aim for Maribor’s new custodians. With a modern but chronically underused facility at their disposal the potential for exponential growth of both commercial and cargo traffic, albeit from a standing start, will ensure the airport doesn’t rely too heavily on just charter flights. Whilst the relatively close proximity to several larger and more established airports makes Maribor’s geographic situation a potential handicap, there is also an opportunity for it to offer more competitive rates to both budget airlines and freight carriers, including charter operators who fly several times every summer into Ljubljana’s Brnik Airport, the Fraport-owned operation that will inevitably demand higher landing charges.

It is astonishing to think that 20 years ago Maribor Airport handled nearly eight times as many passengers as it did in 2016. Now boasting a terminal and associated infrastructure capable of receiving 600,000 travellers, even figures representing a mere fifteen percent of its capacity during 2017 would be an achievement. Although the airport’s new owners have yet to publically finalize their plans it would seem their lodging of €3 million for a fifteen year lease to operate the facilities’ key infrastructure indicates a long-term commitment Maribor desperately needs. Previous majority shareholders Delavska hranilnica’s purchase of the airport was predicated on proving solutions to Slovenia’s problems could be sought from within its borders rather than raffling off the state-silver to foreign bidders. The airport’s sale to a Chinese-backed consortium would appear to contradict their previous stance, although it was perhaps acknowledged that greater expertise and deeper pockets are needed if Slovenia’s secondary airport is to reach anywhere near its untapped potential.

Source material courtesy of: Ex-Yugoslav Aviation blog –