When it was announced that Ljubljana’s Brnik Airport had been overlooked for a direct Emirates-operated route between the Slovenian capital and Dubai, the general view was that it had once more missed out on a high-profile and potentially lucrative service to a rival city, in this case neighbouring Zagreb. In what looks like a simple case of being outbid by the Croats, the temptation to continually label ‘little old Ljubljana’ as being perpetually stuck in second gear with the best of intentions but short on delivering a diverse roster of routes seemed unfortunately apposite. Since the German-based Fraport acquired Brnik the airport has gained an unwelcome reputation for being an expensive place to land, although its previous reliance on an ailing flag-carrier Adria Airways probably kept landing-charges below an acceptable but realistic market rate. Despite Easyjet use Brnik the conspicuous ongoing absence of Ryanair highlights difficulties in brokering mutually-acceptable airport-fees. With neighbouring Venice and Vienna also flying to the UAE and Montenegrin capital Podgorica hosting Emirates’ low-cost operator Fly Dubai, it seemed no coincidence that Ljubljana was continually overlooked when additional routes into the Middle East were mooted.

It has then come as a surprise to note Adria’s intentions to fly into the Iranian capital, Tehran. With a pre-Trump relaxation of sanctions making the Persian city a more accessible possibility for business travellers and tourists alike, Adria appears to have been emboldened by new services offered by Austrian Airlines into the Iranian cities of Isfahan and Shiraz. Although Adria’s flights would initially offer a charter service allowing travellers to connect to Western Europe through Brnik, they would also allow free-spending tourists the chance to escape the heat of the Middle East, as is becoming increasingly common in the Austrian resort of Zell am See. It is not too hard to imagine Lake Bled becoming a popular location with Adria’s Iranian customers.

It was heavily debated after 4K Invest acquired the former state-owned Adria whether the airline would live much longer to tell the tale, and, should it survive which direction its business strategy would propel the Star Alliance member. Perhaps in recognition of it chasing too many rainbows Adria now seems to have decided to concentrate on flights from Brnik, at the expense of several of its previously operated services out of Poland, many of which have been discontinued or at best reduced in frequency. Although the perhaps prematurely optimistic word ‘resurgence’ has been used to describe Adria’s comparative renaissance, I do wonder if its lack of aircraft will stymie its best intentions. Running a fleet of approximately 12 aircraft, Adria will be heavily using each of its planes – none of which it actually owns. Should credence be given to its reported intentions of breaking into the large Ukrainian market, tourist flights between Ljubljana, and for example, Lviv, will require larger aircraft that the nine Bombardier CRJ-class jets at its disposal. It would therefore seem a necessity to wet-lease further Airbus A319 planes that can handle 70+% more passengers than its smaller stable mate.

Fraport previously seemed determined to cut the Gordian knot between Brnik and Adria, the fortunes of the former for too long being an indirect consequence of the airline’s ongoing financial issues. Peace does though finally seem to have broken out between both parties, with perhaps a grudging acceptance that a thriving Adria can only be a good thing for Fraport, as long as they form part of a healthy mix of routes using Brnik. With a 60% market-share of passengers using Slovenia’s principal airport, Adria can still feel they are an important part of the landscape, whilst Fraport will be enthused by the airline’s recent stability but also that an encouraging 40% of business is generated by foreign airlines.

Adria’s recent short-lived but ultimately untenable flirtation with Maribor Airport shows little room for romanticism in today’s aviation world. Whilst rolling back the years for its first flights in fifteen years from Edvard Rusjan Airport was seen as a positive for the city and its residents, the cost of flying an empty plane from Ljubljana prior to its journey to London Southend – a service that generated a load factor of approximately 60% – presumably heavily contributed to Adria’s decision to discontinue the route. Despite in theory Maribor’s terminal being able to handle 600,000 passengers per annum, its geographic situation appears to rule out any exponential spike in charter flights at the expense of its established, regional rivals. Should though the airport’s new Chinese owners make it an attractive proposition for freight traffic, it could feasibly poach custom from nearby Austria and Hungary, and perhaps Brnik itself.

Adria’s best policy would seem for it to focus its minds firmly on Brnik, and away from the uncertainties generated by heavily subsidized routes out of frankly obscure Polish airports. Although its wings may yet be clipped by the numerical limitations of its hired fleet of aircraft, a resurgent Adria Airways fully connected to its Slovenian roots can only be a good thing for the country, and regional European aviation as a whole.

Source material courtesy of:

Radio Television Slovenia (News in English) – http://www.rtvslo.si/news-in-english/ljubljana-misses-another-opportunity-emirates-to-fly-from-zagreb/412497

Ex Yugoslav Aviation blog: http://www.exyuaviation.com/2017/02/adria-plans-tehran-service.html and http://www.exyuaviation.com/2017/01/ljubljana-eyes-growth-under-resurgent.html