The collapse of SkyEurope ten days ago has been felt heavily by Bratislava International Airport, which used to be the home-base of the defunct low cost carrier. It is hard to measure the consequence for Bratislava traffic but according to data from the airport, in 2007 SkyEurope has transported over 868,000 passengers out of Bratislava or 43 percent of total passenger traffic. So far this year, SkyEurope represented a third of all passengers at the Slovakian airport with 26 destinations being served from Bratislava.
The airline also used to have comprehensive operations out of Prague and Vienna. Sky Europe represented in 2008 just 6 percent of total passengers traffic at Vienna Airport and 9 percent of all passengers movements in Prague, far behind passengers’ market share of national carriers Austrian Airlines in Vienna (49 percent) and CSA in Prague (43 percent). Prague and Vienna will however be less affected by SkyEurope disappearance than Bratislava airport. Beside the presence of strong hub operations by their respective national carriers, both airports have also substantial low cost operations. In Vienna, the duo Niki/ Air Berlin are number two with a total passengers market share of 13.7 percent in 2008. In Prague, low cost carriers represent close to a quarter of all passenger traffic. Hungarian Budget carrier Wizz Air is now building up its presence. It opened a base in February 2009 and now serves six cities.
Back to Bratislava, Ryanair is already the second largest airline with a market share of over 36 percent in 2007. It is likely that the excellent positioning of Bratislava with its close proximity to Vienna fits exactly into Ryanair strategy of serving secondary airports around European major metropolises. Ryanair currently offers 14 destinations out of Bratislava and has recently announced new destinations from October with the addition of Bologna, Liverpool and Rome-Ciampino. Wizz Air also studies Bratislava’s potential. The airline will launch four weekly nonstop flights to Rome in November. Commenting on Wizz Air move into the Slovakian capital –already announced in July- Wizz Air executive vice-president John Stephenson declared that “ Slovakia has long been “on the horizon” for the carrier…”
What would be the future? Last week, SkyEurope CEO Nick Manoudakis told the Czech daily Mladá Fronta Dnes that he was negotiating with potential investors to launch a new airline which would retain the SkyEurope brand name. But even if he succeeds, he will then face consumers’ reluctance to fly with the carrier as they saw their confidence eroded with airline’s collapse.
For the airport, it could have not been a worst time as major expansion work to upgrade the terminal to a capacity of five million passengers has started. The expanded terminal is due to be completed by 2012 but it will now take a while before Bratislava reaches this figure. Passengers’ traffic contrasted sharply from January to July of this year as Bratislava welcomed only 975,000 passengers. Calculated on a year-to-year basis, the airport will probably welcome 20 percent less travelers in 2009 compared to 2008, the equivalent of 1.7 to 1.8 million passengers. In the longer term however, Bratislava airport is certain to grow again.
At least, SkyEurope’s rapid rise from 2004 to 2008 proved that Bratislava, as an aviation gateway, has a strong potential. And once Europe will have recovered from the crisis, many airlines will certainly remember this fact.