State firm taking over management of Maribor airport
The decision comes after the Chinese-backed airport operator Aerodrom Maribor announced in January it was invoking a six-month notice and terminating the 15-year lease agreement it signed in 2017 due to delays in a planned expansion of the airport's runway.
The transfer of the lease to DRI, which the government said follows the "unsuccessful story with the Chinese lessees", will help the state avoid the return of almost EUR 6 million in EU funds it received to build a new passenger terminal in Maribor.
In accordance with the commitments accompanying the EU funds, the airport must stay open at least until mid-November 2021.
Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek, who wondered how "such a bad partner" had been chosen to operate the airport in the first place, said the government had no other choice but to transfer the management onto DRI, whose bylaws were changed today so that it can act as manager of infrastructure.
This is because the current operator made continued cooperation conditional on the state paying them to manage the airport rather than it paying the EUR 100,000 monthly lease, while transferring the lease to a private company would require a new tender.
Bratušek said this was just a stop-gap solution as the state had no intention of managing the airport in the long term. The long-term options are finding a new lessee or selling the airport. Bratušek finds the first option more likely.
The local community welcomed the government decision to save the airport, while Aerodrom Maribor said it would shortly take decisions in the company's interest.
Unofficial information indicates Aerodrom Maribor will not take any drastic measures for the time being.
The company, owned by SHS Aviation, said the solutions it had presented to the government were the most favourable in terms of finances and the stability of air services.
Hoče Mayor Marko Soršak hopes DRI manages to get the operating licence so that the airport remains open. Similarly, the Maribor municipality pointed to the airport's role for the Štajerska region's development.
Both Hoče and Maribor believe the state should continue with changes to the national zoning plan for the airport, which they see as a prerequisite for its development.
Maribor would also like a rail track to be integrated into the national zoning plan to make the airport more attractive to potential new customers.
The Štajerska Chamber of Commerce is aware today's decision is but a stop-gape measure buying the government time before it takes the final decision on the airport's future.
Chamber director Aleksandra Podgornik said the region's businesses considered the airport an important infrastructure which should bring both the region and the state a competitive advantage.
She said "the region does not demand any special treatment for the airport, into which a lot of effort and money has been invested".
But we "demand the same conditions that apply to Aerodrom Portorož and Ljubljana airport, which is profitable and in foreign hands but still receives support".