It has been assumed by many aviation analysts and even those without a professional interest in the industry that Ljubljana’s Fraport-owned and operated Brnik Airport held all the cards as to why Slovenia is the only nation within the European Union(EU) where Irish Low Cost Carrier(LCC) Ryanair does not operate. Who though is the puppet master in what could be described as a standoff, or in reality may simply be a unique case where neither has needed the other, rather than one party being continually rebuffed?

Whether erroneous or with some credence, Brnik has in recent times and especially since the German-based airport operator Fraport took control been regarded as an expensive airport with whom to do business. As a commercial enterprise and not a state-owned asset Brnik is concerned with providing a suitable customer experience whilst, attempting at least, to turn a profit. Staying in the black is notoriously difficult within the aviation sector, and high(er) landing charges are less attractive to LCC providers than for example legacy carriers, whose fares often come at a premium and are categorised to enable some passengers to pay for extra comfort and space. For an LCC airline to remain within its remit, keeping fares low is reliant on providing a stripped back service without the knock on effects of landing charges impacting the customer.

An alternative scenario centres upon Ryanair having adequate cover within the Central European space in which Slovenia is situated. Did Graz, Trieste, and Zagreb beat Ljubljana (and Maribor) to the punch when securing Ryanair’s services, or do/did the aforementioned triumvirate offer better strategic benefits and more obvious demographics to exploit than Slovenia’s two largest cities? (It should be recalled that Maribor and Ryanair did have a brief flirtation in 2007, but without state/regional subsidies to keep the route airborne the service was soon discontinued).

It is therefore moot as to whether other regional airports blinked first when Ryanair were showing interest, if the airline preferred them over Brnik, or that Fraport and the airport’s previous regime simply turned up their noses to the carrier, perhaps preferring those with greater capability and willingness to absorb high(er) landing charges within fares paid by passengers with deeper pockets, who ultimately have greater spending power when in Slovenia?

For years there have been rumours of sporadic or ongoing talks between both parties with a view to introducing Ryanair services to Slovenia, but ground has never been ceded by either as to why these have remained fruitless discussions. Recent developments have suggested that could be about to change, with Ryanair actively recruiting for cabin crew staff in Ljubljana and Maribor who in theory at least could man any services using both airports, or either. Whether the airline would commence services from Brnik and Maribor’s Edvard Rusjan Airport seem unlikely, unless it relocates services from other regional airports that are primarily used by Slovenes who are prepared to travel outside of their own border to access flights. Maribor does undoubtedly offer a blank canvas, insomuch that as a commercial flight facility it is currently moribund, albeit with facilities that are immediately ‘ready to go’.

If Maribor and Ryanair reboot their previously failed relationship steps would have to be taken to ensure that insurmountable issues from the past cannot once more hinder and ultimately scupper any reunion. As many customers flying into Maribor on a theoretical Ryanair service will be doing so to access Ljubljana, a fully integrated experience that links Edvard Rusjan and the capital using suitably scheduled and available public transport is vital. If Ljubljana is to become the sole Slovenian recipient of Ryanair’s services, will unserved routes that were lost since the demise of flag carrier Adria Airways be reintroduced, or can passengers expect a raft of new destinations never previously connected with Brnik?

From a personal perspective, I would suggest that Ryanair(or EasyJet) begin a Manchester or Liverpool-Ljubljana service, the former route being one of the casualties of Adria’s collapse into oblivion. Liverpool would perhaps be a better fit with a low cost business model but ultimately, direct flights between the UK and Slovenia from anywhere north of Luton would indeed be a positive development.

I doubt very much that the recruiting of cabin crew from Ljubljana and Maribor is a red herring, instead being the most significant indication yet that Ryanair fully intends to introduce services connecting Slovenia with perhaps several European cities. With the aviation sector still unwinding after the novel coronavirus pandemic and recruitment within the industry remaining particularly challenging, it would though seem that the time is now for the carrier, Fraport, and Slovenia to reach consensus lest the opportunity is lost indefinitely.

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