The jury is still very much out as to whether VLM Airlines can deliver on its grand vision, which includes the prospect of wide-body aircraft regularly linking mainland China with Maribor, Slovenia’s second city.
An extremely modest start to operations have seen Fokker 50 aircraft used during last summer to link eastern Slovenia with the Croatian cities of Split and Dubrovnik, although six months later an additional service connecting Maribor with Antwerp via Munich represents what could be described as a measured, almost non-committal approach that gives little indication of reality aligning with what was initially proposed.
It can be argued that any embryonic route will take some time to get off the ground, especially when its hasn’t been given the full marketing treatment. One report suggested that even the website of Maribor’s own airport didn’t contain a banner advertisement of the Munich and Antwerp services, although from experience this now appears to have been rectified. While some flights have been cancelled due to absolutely no bookings being received, it appears that this clear way to lose money hand over fist is being taken in their stride by VLM, although claims that bookings for the forthcoming months are encouraging still remain to be seen. There are though very positive reports emanating from several passengers who’ve flown between Maribor and Bavaria, highlighting low fares, a good baggage allowance, and inflight catering.
Whether Maribor’s Edvard Rusjan Aerodrom ever plays host to the likes of Airbus A330’s very much depends if the broader aspects of VLM’s plans have depth, or are found to be Potemkin-esque in their hollowness. With alterations to the runway needed to receive the largest of today’s commercial aircraft, one should not assume that a paradigm shift from what is otherwise a dormant airport to its antithesis is likely to happen any time soon. Maribor should perhaps instead focus on short-haul, city break-type destinations and fielding charter services from the UK, to tap into a still unrealised Lakes and Mountains and winter sports sector. Visiting Maribor and its immediate region offers such a diverse range of holiday opportunities including a profusion of thermal spas, that it continues to remain a mystery how nobody with clout in the travel industry has sought to exploit what is a chronically overlooked region of Slovenia. As lakes Bled and Bohinj become increasingly and at times uncomfortably busy, alpine alternatives to the east benefit from excellent transport links and a central European aspect.
The next move from VLM will be fascinating, and pivotal to their future operations from Maribor. No airline can exist for very long on a handful of Fokker aircraft, especially when services using them have yet to break the 50% load factor barrier. With two Airbus A320 reportedly at their disposal, filling these and diversifying its short-haul operations using the Fokker’s for quick turnarounds, enabling their daily use to several destinations, would appear to be the next logical step. As regards the future, one suspects though that even these more modest aspects to VLM’s plans might in the end be pie in the sky; it should be remembered that Graz Airport, 30 km’s north, is a more established operation and has for many years received Slovenian travellers. The proof of the pudding, or that same pie in the sky, will very much be in the eating.
Source material and further information:
Ex Yugoslav Aviation: http://www.exyuaviation.com/2018/02/vlm-airlines-upbeat-over-new-maribor.html
VLM Airlines: https://www.flyvlm.com/en
Maribor Airport: http://www.maribor-airport.si/en/Home.aspx