Growth in traffic, a huge challenge for local firms
The number of passengers handled by the airports of the applicant countries increased by 39.8% between 1995 and 2000, at an average of 6.93% per annum. Apart from Budapest, Malta, Sofia and Ljubljana which experienced falls in the number of passengers of 2.2%, 6.6%, 1.8% and 9.9% respectively, in 2001 the airports of the area withstood the worldwide air travel crisis rather well. Prague, Larnaca (Cyprus), Warsaw, Riga and Vilnius for example recorded growths of 9.8%, 8.4%, 9%, 11.8% and 12% respectively in terms of numbers of passengers handled. (Source: Airports magazine)
The traffic of the 12 applicant countries is essentially very international and European in nature, only Poland and Romania recording any significant domestic traffic with 18.08% and 13.2% respectively of the total in 2000, compared with for example 6.86% and 2.24% for Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.
However, the dynamism of the regional platforms should not make us forget their modest size in comparison with the large European hubs. In 2001, of the 25 airports in the 12 applicant countries which handle more than 100 000 passengers, the 4 principal regional platforms were Prague with 6.10 million passengers (ranking 43rd in Europe), ahead of Larnaca (5.29 million), Warsaw (4.71 million) and Budapest (4.59 million).
If one adds up the number of passengers who have passed through the principal platform of each of the 12 countries, the result is 29.64 million, that is to say less than that of the 6th busiest airport in Europe (Gatwick) and more than the 7th busiest, Rome da Vinci which recorded 25.57 million passengers in 2001. In terms of freight, the 12 airports together handled 214 000 tons, the equivalent of 14th place in Europe.
The principal carriers of the area remain small compared with the large European airlines. By way of illustration, if one adds up the numbers of passengers carried in 2001 by the 7 companies listed in the table below, the result obtained is 13.43 million, that is to say less than KLM, the 7th largest European company which carried 15.9 million passengers. The combined fleet is comparable with that of Iberia in terms of number of aeroplanes, but with very few long-haul aircraft. Thus, in terms of passenger/kilometers, the companies of the applicant countries remain very small because they offer few long-haul flights. With the exception of TAROM which has set up a wide domestic network and developed its connections to Africa and the Middle East, the principal companies of the applicant countries carry more than 75% of their passengers to European destinations.
The modest size of the companies in the area and the lack of diversification in their market are weakening factors in a European sky which is increasingly open to competition. Indeed, the tariff war in Europe has reached the area. Thus, the Czech carrier CSA has this year had to face the competition of BMIBABY and GO AIRLINES on the routes serving Great Britain. In addition, the Slovak start-up SKY EUROPE is deploying its network, featuring particularly low prices for flights to Prague.
For more analyses see the