Poland and Ukraine head into the final straight for EURO 2012 preparations
EURO 2012 will be special in more than one way, as UEFA’s choice of hosts takes the event as far east as ever before. This 2007 decision has resulted in plentiful concerns with regard to the timely completion of key infrastructure investments, as both countries embraced what could be described as a major investment undertaking. With the benefit of hindsight, Martin Kallen, UEFA’s Operations Director for EURO 2012, remarks: “It will be a different EURO. On the football side, we want it to be on the same level or a little better than Austria-Switzerland in 2008. But it will never be on the same level in terms of transport.”
The level of infrastructure investment employed by the two countries has been rarely seen in their history, a fact noted by Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Borys Kolesnikov: “Ukraine has got four new airports with three new runways, and it has also prepared four stadiums. We have accomplished this actually within 18 months. No-one in Europe has experience of this kind.” Although delays caused UEFA more than a handful of sleepless nights, it is difficult to disagree, as both countries managed to lift their airport infrastructure to international standards within very tight schedules.
Out of the two countries, Poland was widely considered to be in a more favourable starting position in terms of infrastructure preparedness. The air traffic boom of the mid-2000s had previously put considerable pressure on the country’s airport capacity, as passenger figures soared by 117% between 2004 and 2007. Most of this growth occurred in regional airports, forcing authorities to plan for wide-ranging upgrades of the existing limited facilities.
All four airports, which directly serve the Polish host cities of Gdansk, Poznan, Warsaw and Wrocław, have embraced extensive expansion plans. A further four were designated as auxiliary, including airports in Katowice, Łódz, Zielona Góra and Bydgoszcz, while Kraków Airport will be treated as a main airport, despite the city not hosting any games; upgrades are occurring in all of these locations. Poland will also see Warsaw Modlin Airport open before the championship; facilities in Lublin and Gdynia won’t be completed until after the tournament, despite the original plans. “It is only natural that the main airports remain in the limelight, but all airports, both main and auxiliary, have been involved at all stages,” explained Rafał Markiewicz, National Coordinator for Airports within PL.2012 – the Polish EURO 2012 coordinating body.
Warsaw Chopin Airport, Poland’s busiest facility and the hub airport for LOT Polish Airlines, has seen a traffic increase of 30% in the last decade. Unlike other facilities in the country, Chopin Airport required only minor improvements to accommodate the 30,000-strong passenger influx it expects on 8 June, when the opening match takes place. With major airfield and terminal upgrades already finished, the airport is awaiting completion of a rail link to downtown Warsaw. The project, managed by the Polish Rail Enterprise, had encountered numerous obstacles and its timely execution remains one of the biggest questions. Michał Marzec, Director PPL Polish Airports State Enterprise, commented: “All investments require temporary sacrifices; we trust that the missing rail link will be finished on time, but have relevant contingency plans on standby.” Chopin Airport’s expansion plans extend beyond the games, as the refurbishment of Terminal 1 and its synchronisation with other facilities is planned to begin in the summer.
Amongst regional airports, Wroclaw Airport had its new terminal commissioned on 29 February. Completion of works in Gdansk is scheduled for April, while the new arrivals building in Poznan will become operational in time for EURO 2012, although its full integration with existing facilities is not expected until later in the year. “We are confident that facilities in both Gdansk and Poznan will be up and running with time to spare. Unlike other transport investments, the progress made by airports is very positive and something to be proud of,” underlined Marczewski.
Unlike its neighbour, Ukraine had not experienced a boom in air traffic, although the growth was considerable, even if focused on the country’s capital. In this context, a strong sense of achievement shouldn’t surprise, in spite of apparent setbacks: “We have not collapsed into the abyss of economic disaster,” said Mykola Azarov, Prime Minister of Ukraine, who considers “the feeling that something can be done as one of the most important lessons drawn from EURO 2012.” And he might be on to something, as Ukraine had not built a single new airport since it pronounced independence in 1991, until the impending kick-off date brought about the pressure to deliver.
Ukraine’s largest airport, Boryspil, currently holds a 65% share of all air traffic at country level and remains the only one to receive intercontinental flights. In line with UEFA’s requirements, the airport had to upgrade its hourly capacity of 1,840 passengers to 4,150, or more than twofold. Modernisation plans envisaged expansion to five terminals, including brand new Terminals D and F, with rush hour capacity of 6,250 hourly passengers, leaving a significant error margin on UEFA’s requirements. Terminal F opened on 21 September 2010, while the construction of Terminal D, a large facility dedicated to international services, is running behind the official schedule; it entered the testing phase in January and a soft opening is now scheduled for 25 March. The aged, 1960s Terminal B is currently undergoing final upgrades. A fifth building, Terminal E, is not due for completion until 2015.
In Lviv, the new terminal building is now complete, although other improvement works are still ongoing and Borys Kolesnikov assures, that “the new airport in Lviv will start at the end of March”. This might not be entirely on schedule, but is a light in the long tunnel of upgrades undertaken at Lviv since 2009, including runway and tarmac extensions, refurbishment of the existing terminal building, as well as the construction of temporary terminals for the duration of EURO 2012. Traffic at Lviv Airport shrank by nearly 50%, as tight operational restrictions were put in place to facilitate the works.
Kharkov’s new terminal was commissioned in September 2010, and was part of a comprehensive upgrade project undertaken as a public-private partnership, a form of funding that failed to attract attention in Poland, but proved very successful in Ukraine. The project consisted of two main components; airport complex development financed by a private investor and state-financed airfield upgrades, and carried an approximate price tag of $200 million (€150m). The 20,000sqm facility was designed by Airport Research Centre, a German engineering consultancy, which had previously been in charge of the master plan for Berlin Brandenburg International Airport. The Low Cost High Quality terminal design applied in Kharkov makes extensive use of modular pallets, offering great functionality and flexibility. Together with double runway operation, the facility should comfortably handle 2,550 passengers per hour as stipulated by UEFA – a vast improvement on the maximum throughput of 100 passengers per hour to begin with. “Kharkov is an example of effective cooperation of the state and private business,” said Kolesnikov.
Donetsk International Airport has long been one of UEFA’s main worries, whereby a number of domestic companies, including Altkom, Sreda and Ukraeroport Institute, have been working on completing the terminal since 2007. A new terminal and control tower, as well as a 4km long runway are now in the final stage of testing and, once commissioned, they will increase the airport’s capacity several-fold, making it the country’s second largest facility.
Regardless of their scale, infrastructure investments alone would not suffice. In Poland, preliminary impact analysis set additional traffic at one million passengers, spread over the duration of the games; in mid-March however, PL.2012, the Polish EURO 2012 coordinating body, produced a more conservative outlook. The report is based on prognostics prepared by Airport Coordination Limited, which had been put in charge of slot coordination by the Polish Civil Aviation Bureau in November 2011. The London-based company will coordinate the country’s four host airports for the duration of the games; additionally, it will continue to do so in Warsaw beyond that period. “Cooperation with ACL has proven very satisfactory, in spite of short lead times and overall time pressure,” remarked Rafał Marczewski, PL.2012’s National Coordinator for Airports, adding that “ACL has now received most slot applications, but more are expected, notably so from Russian carriers.” Against expectations, Warsaw has been overtaken by airports in Gdansk and Poznan in terms of airline appeal; this however, is “a direct outcome of group allocation with travel preferences varying by the origin country”, said Marczewski.
For its part, Ukraine will introduce ‘open sky’ conditions in order to facilitate air access for football fans. “All airlines will be free to fly to Ukraine and more than 200 nationalities are expected,” said Kolesnikov; in fact, the special conditions will apply from as early as 15 May, and talks are being held with airlines aiming at maximum utilisation of the two-month grace period. Only Kiev Boryspil Airport is slot-coordinated on a day-to-day basis, but UkSATSE (Ukrainian State Air Traffic Service Enterprise) will extend its services to other facilities for the duration of the games.
Making history together
EURO has only ever been co-hosted by two countries twice, and both Poland and Ukraine wanted to use it not only as a marketing opportunity, but also to improve links between each other. With respect to air transportation, cooperation took place largely within the structures of EUROCONTROL, of which both countries are members. In terms of infrastructure on the ground, the neighbouring countries were keen on joint coordination of efforts, under UEFA’s supervision.
As the preparations progressed, however, “both sides had to focus on wrapping all projects up, and you could say that the early stages fostered more cooperation, as they involved a great deal of planning. Now it’s time to deliver”,
The airports are widely considered to be a secure long-term investment regardless of the source of funding, and one that has been long overdue in both host countries. Taking into account the magnitude of upgrade works, they might well prove to be the most important aspect of the championship’s legacy.