The bounceback brewing at Bratislava
The political, cultural and economic centre of Slovakia, Bratislava is located in a zone of intense airport competition, with rivals on all sides, including Brno, Budapest and most markedly, Vienna Airport. The main airports of Slovakia and Austria are only
60km apart and effectively operate in the same catchment area. “It is never easy to run an international airport, which is also the main airport of the country without a home carrier,” commented Jančula. “We do not position ourselves as a direct competition to Vienna. We are the smart option. We are very happy to see that cost-conscious airlines and guests who require a good product for their money have started realising this.”
Bratislava Airport has endured mixed fortunes over the past decade, but it introduced a new commercial strategy 18 months ago. That strategy is already bearing fruit, the airport having lowered its cost base by 5% while increasing aviation revenues by 8%. “We developed an attractive and very competitive incentive programme to boost our destinations portfolio and improve the product, while encountering continuous growth in business traffic,” said Jančula. “As a smart solution for the whole region, we are focused on capitalising on our compact size, rather large catchment area and enough capacity with no slots or operational restrictions.”
Connecting with hubs
Under the incentive programme, airlines receive discounted landing fees. For flights up to 3 hours 30 minutes, these total 95% in year one, 75% in year two and 50% in year three. For flights over 3 hours 30 minutes, the discount is 95% in years one to three, 75% in year four and 50% in year five. The carrier can also apply for discounted passenger fees; the discount on this is 40% in year one, 35% in year two and 30% in year three.
“I am proud to say we have a modern and very transparent incentive programme that not only offers discounts for newcomers to unserved routes, both long haul and short haul, but also offers a convenient marketing support model,” explained Jančula. “The focus is on the development of new, unserved routes and boosting the portfolio of destinations operated from Bratislava as a smart option for air travel within the region. There are no hidden taxes or fees, such as environmental, security or terminal charges.”
The positive impact of the incentive scheme is borne out by three new routes recently opened from Bratislava. Norwegian has launched services to Oslo and Copenhagen, while UTair Aviation has begun services to Moscow. Significantly, Norwegian moved its Oslo and Copenhagen routes from Vienna to Bratislava, which Jančula described as a strong message to the market. “All three new routes connect Bratislava with recognised hub destinations, thus offering a wide variety of travel possibilities,” he commented. “The daily Moscow service, together with double-weekly Oslo and Copenhagen services, allow our guests to now reach more than 190 destinations using a single air ticket with baggage checked through. At the same time, there are more than 190 places of origin to start a trip through Moscow, Oslo and Copenhagen to Central Europe now.”
The Moscow service has been a great success; it began with four weekly flights, moving to a daily service after only two months. The strategy now is to connect with more main hubs, not only in Western Europe. “With 24/7 operations, no night restrictions, no slot constraints and no hidden taxes or fees, we are a perfect gateway to Central and Eastern Europe for booming Asian cost-conscious carriers or those that can see the potential of connections with emerging markets all over Europe and the Middle East. The routes to Moscow and Scandinavia are a good example of a smart solution for reasonable costs,” said Jančula.
Annual Passengers: 1.6 million (2011)
Annual Air Traffic Movements: 25,358 (2011)
Number of Airlines Served: 6 (scheduled traffic)
Number of Destinations Served: 27 scheduled plus 41 charter
Number of Employees: 600 (as at 31 December 2011)
Number of Companies on the Airport Site: 22
New terminal: Phase 2
But when delivering value, price is only one side of the coin. Bratislava Airport is also investing significantly to ensure that quality is at a level that users – both airlines and passengers – have come to expect. Indeed, the second phase of a new passenger terminal is scheduled to open in July. The first part of the new terminal – the departures area – opened two years ago and this next phase will see the opening of four more gates and the arrivals hall. The new facility will have a capacity of five million passengers per year, and its smart architecture will enhance the passenger experience while also providing more room for retail. Jančula explained: “The combination of steel, glass and wood delivers a clean, yet very functional design. Free wifi, the possibility to charge your notebook or a wide variety of cell phones, and to heat up milk for the very little ones, as well as a comfortable VIP lounge, make this terminal very practical for both leisure and business guests.”
Commenting on the one-bag rule being implemented by some low-cost carriers, which has seen retail revenues decline by up to 50% at those airports affected, Jančula added: “We do not like to see any obstacles in the way of our guests comfort or potential ancillary revenues. We do fully respect all the security and operational requirements of the carriers, but we do not find it fair that our mutual guest – the passenger – should ever become a victim of the attempts to squeeze every single penny out of every possible situation. Not all of the carriers present at Bratislava Airport insist on the one-bag rule, but we clearly could see higher commercial revenues and a better passenger experience without such restrictions, which are in fact commercially driven.”
Bratislava Airport has undergone a ‘face-lift’, not only in terms of its new terminal development, but also its new commercial strategy, which is starting to reap rewards. Important new routes to Oslo, Copenhagen and Moscow have opened, and the second phase of the new terminal will be complete in July. The new terminal is Slovakia’s most significant aviation project in several decades, in terms of strategy, capacity and investment. While 2011 was a year of consolidation for Bratislava Airport, further growth is expected to be recorded in 2012. “We offer a smart, simple, transparent and very flexible solution for getting to the heart of Europe by air for reasonable costs,” concluded Jančula.