When is an airport not an airport? I suppose the answer would be when it doesn’t facilitate commercial flight movements despite it having the infrastructure, track record, and ability to do so. Two such operations spring to mind – make that three with the impending closure of Doncaster Sheffield Airport – namely Blackpool in the Northwest of England but perhaps the most pertinent: Maribor’s Edvard Rusjan.
There are two strands to the utter waste of potential at Maribor, Slovenia’s second city. Firstly, its airport is good to go and once received flights operated by Ryanair, with Slovenia now being the only European Union(EU) member where the Irish-based LCC does not have a presence. Benefitting from the EU’s munificence which bankrolled a new and its current terminal building, the airport or to be precise the Slovenian government only recently avoided a €10 million sanction which would have been activated if any ‘major changes’ had taken place at Edvard Rusjan. In other words, if it could have been proven that the airport had ceased to provide the services which by definition it is expected to, the EU could have clawed back its investment into something which at some point in the decade since made the biggest change to what an airport represents – not having commercial flights. That Maribor Airport avoided this penalty is without question and I am not for one minute suggesting that there was a creative interpretation of the rules, but the fact remains that as a commercial flight facility such activity is in effect conspicuous by its absence, albeit presumably underpinned by the occasional charter service and when used by visiting sports teams.
The second aspect relates to the area within Slovenia where Maribor is situated. Vacationers fly into Ljubljana Airport to access mountain regions such as Bovec, Kranjska Gora, Bled, and Bohinj as well as to visit the Slovenian capital itself, now firmly established as a bona fide European city break location for the curious and cultured. Slovenia’s small but perfectly formed coastal strip is also accessible from Ljubljana’s Joze Pucnik Airport, but there is plenty more of and to an albeit compact country which is arguably better approached from the east of the country, with Maribor Airport ideally situated to exploit the natural and manmade riches within its environs.
Such examples include the Pohorje Massif, a range of peaks and undulating forested hills that afford hikers and winter sports enthusiasts an alternative to what would be regarded as the ‘classic’ alpine’ locations. Far from punching above its altitude, Pohorje stages the Golden Fox women’s ski World Cup slalom race every January. If package holiday companies can fly its guests into Ljubljana for hiking and skiers using Vogel, Kanin, and Podkoren, there is no reason why they cannot do so for Pohorje. The Rogla ski resort represents a regional alternative to Pohorje, although for variety each can be easily reached from the other.
As a bijou seat of culture and fine architecture, Maribor has all the credentials to be regarded as a city worthy of inclusion as an alternative to the usual European city break suspects. Boasting top class spa facilities and an established viticulture scene there is obvious potential for themed holidays, and therefore regular rotations of flights at Edvard Rusjan Airport.
It seems that flight training and aircraft storage are now the only aviation-related activities carried out at Maribor. A rumoured Wizz Air service linking the city with Skopje has remained just that, whilst summer charters connecting with Pisa, Naples, and Bolzano were shelved due to a lack of interest that likely stemmed from high ticket prices. Nevertheless, a fully joined up approach between the Slovenian government and the airport management it has installed, along with local tourist offices and those within tourism’s private sector could and should yield dividends for the area.
It would certainly take a leap of faith to initiate but with the right marketing and cooperation, the appeal of the area in and around Maribor could give its airport a timely reboot. As has been seen at Doncaster Sheffield Airport, a popular facility used by both Wizz Air and latterly TUI, longevity cannot be guaranteed nor taken for granted. Now that Maribor Airport is free from being sanctioned by the EU one wonders what future it actually has, unless someone can firmly get to grips with at the very least of giving back its dignity.