It is not a big surprise that Slovenia will not during its incumbent administration seek to (re)establish a new national flag carrier. Perhaps more surprising is that a country of two million people previously had such an entity but any incredulity does a serious disservice to the much missed Adria Airways.

I first used Adria Airways in 1999 and continued to do so until around 2013. There was something unique encapsulated within the carrier, not only that it was proudly representing Slovenia but that a nation of such modest dimensions was able to punch above its weight in an industry that burns money faster than aviation fuel. Although profit and most pertinently loss are rarely considered by your average airline passengers and despite hefty state subsidies in effect keeping Adria in the air, Slovenia’s strategic geographic position that almost acts as a buffer between Eastern Europe and the West made/makes it an ideal staging post for airlines. It was this rather blinkered, perhaps naïve notion which ensured that I never questioned Adria’s viability, at least until the Slovenian government decided to divest itself of one of its most cherished but loss making assets.

Fast forward beyond the sale of Adria Airways in 2016 to the German/Luxembourg-based financial fund 4K Invest until its ultimate pre-pandemic demise in late 2019, there has in the last few months been talk of readdressing the question as to whether Slovenia wants, needs, and/or requires a new flag carrier. The subject has divided the country’s newly installed governing coalition, who have pondered not just the disproportionate (lack) of connectivity the country has since Adria’s demise and the novel coronavirus pandemic precipitated a situation where Slovenia now punches way BELOW its weight, but also the economic reality of not only operating an airline but building one from scratch. It should not be forgotten that by the time it folded Adria did not own any of its own aircraft. Having already posited when is an airport not worthy of its designation, it can be argued that an airline has little recourse to such a moniker if it doesn’t possess any of the aircraft it operates.

As a strategically located nation popular with remittance workers from other nations of the former Yugoslavia and wider South-eastern Europe, there is no shortage of demand, both pent up and exercised, along with the potential to grow routes and more regular rotations within the aforementioned region. It is though to the routes that have been lost since Adria left the building, and the ones, whilst subjective, which were never exploited in the first place where Slovenia must seek to create favourable conditions for airlines to not only want to do business with them, but to actually do so.

Is the Fraport-owner operated Brnik-based Ljubljana Airport too expensive for (some) Low Cost Carriers to do business with, or is there an element of snobbery about certain airlines where legacy carriers would be seen as preferable? Either way, the realities are that Brnik is poorly connected, or at least isn’t as well connected as it should be, with seemingly no imminent likelihood of for example the former Adria routes of Manchester and Dublin being rekindled any time soon. To not have any connections with UK airports based north of Luton is unbelievable, and fails to fully tap into a hiking, skiing, and city break market which had long been established prior to Adria’s demise.

Why, for example, should Inghams and TUI Lakes & Mountains guests have to fly to Salzburg to access Bohinj, Bled, and Kranjska Gora? This involves a four-hour transfer, a length of time that really eats into a week’s vacation. Surely if Jet2 can operate two flights a week between Manchester and Innsbruck, an airport not known for cheap landing charges, then something similar could be arranged for passengers travelling to Slovenia from Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, and so on?

Now that the creation of a new Slovenian national carrier has been ruled out, that should not simply be the end of the story. The rules of engagement should follow along the lines of one the following:

a) A standalone new Slovenian airline b) a new Slovenian airline operated with a strategic local partner c) one of a or b coupled with an increased focus on other airlines growing connectivity with Slovenia or d) a concerted focus to create the conditions where airlines can fill the unserved gaps in Slovenia’s connectivity, at both Ljubljana and Maribor.

The final option is for the time being at least the only one available to the Slovenian government, and should be expeditiously investigated and actioned. That the world is going to have to live with novel coronavirus is a truism that needs to factored into all decision making but nevertheless, the wholesale shutdowns of the past couple of years are no longer viable. It is therefore short-sighted to keep using Covid-19 as an excuse to not to look to the future, and allow growth to continue to flatline or even recede yet further.

Austria understands that for flights into Innsbruck during the hiking and ski seasons the Dutch and British markets are its core customers. I would suggest that Slovenia is no different, and should concentrate its efforts on (re)established lost links and creating those that were never exploited. We are not talking about ‘plane loads of boozed up stag and hen ‘do’ participants, but the type of tourist who wants to engage with the Julian Alps and Ljubljana’s architectural and cultural splendour.

Whether or not a country the size of Slovenia should expect or have ever expected to have its own national carrier is moot, but ruling out the option of an Adria Airways 2.0 or an Air Slovenia does not mean its aviation industry should remain introspective and unambitious. There can and should be a viable alternative, but only if the collective will of the respective stakeholders wishes there to be.

Source material:

Ex Yugoslav Aviation:

https://www.exyuaviation.com/2022/04/slovenia-divided-over-new-national.html and https://www.exyuaviation.com/2022/05/new-slovenian-flag-carrier-possible.html and https://www.exyuaviation.com/2022/05/new-slovenian-government-rules-out-new.html