As one of the Brits who regularly flies back and forwards to the UK, for several years now, remembering how easy it was getting on a BA flight at the old Prishtina airport and flying direct to London. They flew three times a week and the planes were always full.
We were happy with the little old airport which was always busy, but that is not the case now, since the Turkish company took over the airport and British Airways pulled out. The lovely new big terminal empty and quiet, much like Skopje airport was a few years ago.
On my last trip to London from Prishtina I was shocked by the lack of people. I must say I have never checked my luggage in at any airport and never had to queue. On this occasion I not only did not have to queue but there was nobody else checking in at that time. It was the same at passport control and security. Now this was not in the middle of the night, but mid morning. While waiting at the gate my fellow passengers dribbled in, but for a huge terminal there was a lack of travellers.
Earlier this year I flew from Skopje direct to London which was a totally opposite experience. Even though the flight was at 5am the airport was bustling with people and long queues from checking in to boarding the plane. It is no wonder reports out today are reporting that passengers are up by 40% since Wizz air have been flying from the Alexander the Great airport with direct flights to London.
Budget Flights Boost Air Traffic in Macedonia
Macedonia’s main airport last year nearly broke the million-passenger boundary, after more than 920,000 passengers passed through it.
The CAA data for the first five months of 2014 suggest that this ceiling is almost certain to be broken this year.
The airport handled 18 per cent more passengers this year compared to the same period last year. Goods transport over the same period increased by over 22 per cent.
“Each year, we mark an average growth of some 10 per cent. This growth is very high if we compare it to the highest average growth in passengers in Europe, which is 5 per cent,” said Alp Er Tunga Ersoy, deputy general manager at TAV Macedonia, the Turkish company that operates Macedonia’s two passenger airports in Skopje and in Ohrid.
In 2011, TAV opened a new passenger terminal building in Skopje as part of its €110 million investment in Macedonian airports. Approximately ten times larger than Skopje’s previous city airport, it can manage at least 4 million passengers a year.
The data show that the growth in traffic is mainly down to the introduction of government-subsidized cheap flights.
Last year, almost half of all passengers using the airport had traveled on budget airline flights, a rise of 200 per cent on the year before.
The low-budget airline Wizz Air has spearheaded the increase as it was responsible for 36 per cent of all the flights to and from Skopje in 2013. Turkish Airways was reponsible for another 13 per cent of all flights and Austrian airlines for 10.
The government last year offered subsidies for air carriers that are willing to introduce new destinations for Macedonian passengers. Carriers receive €40,000 for each new destination and the government pays seven to nine euro for each ticket purchased on these new flights.
“This year, we plan to spend €4.9 million on subsidies for new flights. We plan to keep this policy as data show that in the brief period since its introduction it has had significant results,” Macedonian Transport Ministry told Balkan Insight.