The Slovenia Times

Air passenger transport slowly recovering amid uncertainty


Brnik/Maribor/Sečovlje - The aviation industry is on the path to recovery following the devastating impact of the pandemic. At the Ljubljana airport, where a new passenger terminal opened last year, the number of flights and passengers is increasing, but there is still much uncertainty, including concerns related to the spread of the omicron variant of coronavirus.

After the shock that the aviation industry suffered due to the pandemic, the mood in the industry has slightly improved this year, both thanks to the adjustments made by companies and to vaccination.

The recovery of air passenger traffic has also been driven by people's appetite to travel after a long period of closure. The operator of Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport is optimistic.

"Airlines are coming back, regular routes are being established again, and we are still looking to add more frequent flights and some destinations that we already had before," Zmago Skobir, an adviser to the management at Fraport Slovenija, has told the STA.

Although movement at border crossings is still restricted by a number of epidemiological measures, travel demand has generally increased this year.

Just over 385,000 passengers travelled through the Ljubljana airport in the first eleven months of this year, 33% more than in the same period last year, but only this is still less than a quarter of the total recorded in 2019.

This summer, there was a lot of interest in charter flights. This trend continued into the autumn, and there was also substantial interest in flights during the current festive period.

However, due to the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, there is some caution in the carriers' forecasts for after the New Year's, Fraport Slovenija has told the STA.

For the time being, a reduced volume of flights to the UK is forecast for a short period. However, they hope that the spread of omicron will not have widespread and long-term consequences.

Next year, the Ljubljana airport plans to handle around 900,000 passengers, which is still 44% less than the 1.6 million it has set as its baseline.

Fraport Slovenija director Babett Stapel expects a full recovery by 2025, as does the airline industry in general. However, in light of the current situation, forecasts have become very difficult to make, she added.

Stapel said that she would like to see the EU coordinate measures and rules as soon as possible to make travel easier, which would help the whole aviation industry to recover.

She is also optimistic about air carriers' announcements for the next summer season, as 19 airlines are expected to connect Ljubljana with 20 destinations.

Stapel sees the recovery of transport and connectivity as key challenges for the future. Close cooperation between the airport, carriers, tourism and the state will be paramount, while finding the right staff is also one of the challenges, she added.

The situation is slightly more difficult at the Maribor airport, which has been on life support so that the state could avoid repaying the EU funds meant for building a new passenger terminal at the more or less inoperative airport.

The fate of the airport remains unclear. The ministry plans to find a new long-term operator, and procedures are still ongoing to amend the national spatial plan, which would provide for an extension of the runway.

Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec believes that to be one of the basic conditions to attract serious investors, while he is convinced that the airport has potential.

Meanwhile, Slovenia's smallest international airport near the coastal towns of Portorož and Sečovlje is concluding the year above expectations, especially when taking into account the Covid-related crisis.

From January to October, the number of passengers exceeded 26,000, which is more than in the whole of 2020, the operator Aerodrom Portorož has told the STA.

The company added that it continued to work on finding solutions for the urgently needed expansion and modernisation of the outdated airport infrastructure, highlighting the need for additional aircraft parking space.


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