Residents living adjacent to Maribor’s Edvard Rusjan Airport are rightly concerned by plans to expand the facility. Doing so could not only see the loss of forest and a large parcel of agricultural land, simultaneously undermining Slovenia’s hardwired ‘green’ credentials, but also ultimately be an exercise in futility now that the modern, fit for purpose terminal is once more lying dormant.

Chinese and Dutch investors acquired Maribor’s airport in 2016 from Slovenian savings bank Delavska hranilnica, promising a long and short haul roster that would firmly put Slovenia’s second city on the map. Now a wholly Sino-owned concern, nearly two years on few positives have transpired to lend credence to what to most seemed at best a pie in the sky scheme, but to others an unsubstantiated exercise in money laundering.

For a time operating in tandem with VLM Airlines, parent company SHS Aviation promulgated a soft opening to their stewardship of the airport with the usual handful of summer charters to Croatian islands, and a limited Maribor to Antwerp via Munich service operated by VLM, acting as a mere precursor to the further ramping up of connections with initially several European cities, if only to prove the owners’ credentials, before links between Edvard Rusjan Airport and China commenced. The latter, larger part of the deal could only be brought to market once the runway had been extended, although for this to now take place when not only the recently defunct VLM have left the building but also the chances of long-haul connections lessening by the day, would amount to environment vandalism and financial madness.

Despite struggling to handle 1% of its current 600,000 passengers per annum capacity, Edvard Rusjan Airport remains a fine facility in need of considerate, transparent owners in possession of a credible, realistic plan for its long-term future. Carving up Slovenia’s precious countryside for an unfeasible and illogical project that is at this stage unlikely to be realized contradicts the nation’s environmental principles, and shows local and national decision makers to be very much in thrall to the seductive, charismatic blandishments from who are in effect snake oil salesmen.

If Maribor Airport entered into a logical agreement with automotive multinational Magna, themselves an increasingly influential presence in the region thanks to ongoing construction of their paint shop slated to initially create 400 jobs, in time up to one thousand, there would be an increased use of its landing strip without the need to extend beyond the existing footprint. Be it through air freight, short haul commercial flights or a mixture of the two, there is surely a palpable use for the airport without resorting to fanciful schemes that do little other than mock any local politicians and citizens taken in by such wild talk.

Local residents’ who were willing to give SHS Aviation the benefit of the doubt when promised long haul connections with China will though not tolerate the destruction of their local green infrastructure, especially when Maribor’s airport is just as inactive, if not more so, than before the current owners took the controls. Why though would the 15 year lease to operate a quiescent airport be granted, with a rumoured application for it to be extended to 50 years, if the extension to the runway is far from being a foregone conclusion? From what could end up being a created blight on the local countryside, if only to enlarge an already white elephant without producing any economic benefits to Maribor and its surroundings, there appears to few chances of a happy ending for all parties. It is time for the Chinese owners of Maribor’s airport to formally show their hand, along with a detailed timescale that is fully costed and proof that funds exist, alongside their provenance, to top out the project. The absence of such assurances will only give further traction to those who have all along suspected all is very much not what it seems, and that something is rotten in the state of Maribor.

Further information and source material:

RTV Slovenija: www.rtvslo.si/news-in-english/locals-are-against-maribor-airport-expansion/465871 and http://www.rtvslo.si/lokalne-novice/maribor/proti-siritvi-mariborskega-letalisca-za-ohranitev-kmetijskih-zemljisc/466076

STA News Agency: www.sta.si/2551974/v-miklavzu-kriticni-do-nacrtov-za-siritev-mariborskega-letalisca

The Slovenia Times: www.sloveniatimes.com/magna-officially-commits-to-building-paint-shop-near-maribor