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The Viennese waltz

Vienna International Airport is like a dancefloor for Europe’s budget carriers. Keith Mwanalushi looks closer at the recent surge in capacity
 

Currently, it seems all roads lead to Vienna, the Austrian capital. This is certainly the case with many European low fare operators, as well as other airlines from further afield. Following the demise of NIKI and airberlin, which both had considerable capacity out of Vienna, there has been strong growth by LCCs and the Lufthansa Group.


Benefitting from its historically significant geographic location, Vienna has for some time been a market of mystery for many. Regarded for many years as a gateway to small niche markets in Central and Eastern Europe, the airport had a perception of above average yields, regional jet services, and an almost secret collection of airlines operating there.


However, things are changing very quickly. In 2017 Vienna Airport handled 24.4 million passengers – up by 4.5 million on the previous year, as data from the airport shows.  Also, data from air travel specialists OAG highlights a significant growth trend.


“Consistently within the top twenty European airports based on scheduled capacity, Vienna is the adolescent that never grows up, having ranked between thirteenth and nineteenth over the last ten years,” observes John Grant, Senior Analyst at OAG.


Grant says 2018, however, looks like a year of significant change, with year-on-year capacity growth of over 9% making the airport the second fastest growing amongst the top 20 airports in Europe, with Lisbon in first place.


At the Vienna location, the number of passengers increased by 5.5% from January to June 2018 to 11,840,245 passengers. For the full year 2018, the company continues to expect passenger growth of at least 8% in the Flughafen Wien Group [operators of Vienna Airport], and at least 6% in Vienna Airport, according to the airport’s figures.


Vienna’s Central European location is reflected in the share of capacity offered to points within Europe compared to its peers. Grant notes that with some 85% of seats destined to other points in Europe, Vienna’s location would appear to be a key strength, although perhaps some strategist would argue equally a bit of a weakness. “Either way, its reliance on a market with few travel and visa restrictions would be a desirable position for many competitors,” he reckons.


Throughout the last decade the strength of the base carrier, Austrian Airlines, has provided a solid foundation for the airport’s capacity development, regularly producing around 48% (OAG) share of all capacity; a balanced perspective that any airport would like to see from its largest carrier, Grant notes – “Enough to be strategically important, but not enough to scare away others!”


Austrian Airlines increased its traffic volume in the first nine months of 2018, transporting 10.6 million passengers according to the airline. From winter 2018, the flag carrier has announced a string of new long haul destinations and frequency increases, including a new route to Cape Town and additional capacity to regional services in Eastern Europe.


Indeed, OAG figures show that in the last year just over 900,000 new seats have been added by new airlines operating to Vienna, including services from Laudamotion (formerly Niki and now partly owned by Ryanair), Wizzair and LEVEL, whilst easyJet increased their capacity by some 387,000 seats year-on-year. “Collectively, those three new entrants account for only 5% of all scheduled capacity, but accounted for the vast majority of capacity growth at the airport in the last year, leading to a modest change in the mix of operators at the airport. In 2018, some 3.4 million seats will have been supplied by low cost airlines, an increase of nearly 35% compared to 2017,” Grant indicates.

 

Laudamotion, the new LCC that ‘resurfaced’ in the wake of NIKI’s demise, is growing aggressively. The airline is adding 20 routes from winter 2018, with the carrier has reporting more than three million bookings since the start of its operations in March 2018. „


"With the new track recordings from Laudamotion, passengers receive an even wider selection of destinations, making the winter timetable at Vienna International Airport more diverse than ever,” stated Mag. Julian Jäger, CEO of Flughafen Wien AG at the launch of the winter schedule in late October.  He added that Laudamotion was on course for growth, and would thus contribute significantly to the upcoming passenger record at Vienna International Airport.


In 2019, the airline expects to capture five million passengers. “Laudamotion is setting strong growth impulses at the site,” Jäger continued. Clearly the airline is committed to growth, but as experience shows, growing too quickly can have pitfalls. However, with significant backing from Ryanair, it looks likely that the growth curve will continue.


Another significant move was that made by easyJet, with the establishment of a subsidiary based in Vienna, simply titled easyJet Europe. The airline was established in July 2017, and started operations the same year, with the first flight being an Airbus A320 (re-registered as OE-IVA, previously G-EZPA) flying from London Luton Airport to its new home base at Vienna Airport. The airline was established following the UK referendum vote to leave the European Union, and the airline's decision to obtain an Air Operator's Certificate (AOC) in another EU member state was made in order to continue operating flights across and within European countries after the UK leaves the EU. >>

 


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