Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Zagreb Franjo Tuđman Airport: High Fees Causing Airline Exodus

Major airlines are pulling out of the Franjo Tuđman Airport in Zagreb, Croatia. While the coastal airports are experiencing a boom in air traffic; passenger growth has been stagnating this year in Croatia’s capital. The decline is expected to continue into 2020; as Jakov Fabinger/SimpleFlying points out on November 24, 2019.

Low Passenger Numbers

According to the airport’s own statistics, Franjo Tuđman Airport has handled 2.96 million passengers so far in 2019. It had handled 2.89 million passengers by the same time last year, which is only a slight increase. There are two reasons why this is a significant problem for Croatia and for the airport itself. First, the negligible growth comes during a period when Croatia is booming. Iberia keeps expanding year after year, direct flights to the USA have resumed after 28 years, and passenger growth is averaging 10% this year. Zagreb Airport is lagging far behind the growth rates of Croatia as a whole, but it is also behind its European counterparts.

Zagreb in Advantageous Position

Zagreb Airport appears to be in an advantageous position. It is the only airport serving the Croatian capital and the only airport in the vicinity of the wider catchment area. But its passenger numbers are still comparably low. At just 45 flights per day, the airport is less busy than many of Europe’s secondary airports like Palermo, Hanover or Aberdeen. In Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, which is half the population size of Zagreb, air traffic is almost 50% higher.


2020 Will Be Worse

In 2020, Zagreb Airport passenger numbers are expected to shrink. No new routes have been announced. And Croatia Airlines, the national carrier of Croatia, will be receiving government grants to cover its operating losses. Furthermore, there is a risk that Ljubljana Airport will soon become the low-cost alternative to Zagreb. Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, is just two hours’ drive away from and has been left with a serious lack of air connectivity since the demise of Adria Airways.

Airline Routes Cut

Korean Air has converted its service between Zagreb and Seoul from year-round to seasonal. CSA Czech Airlines has discontinued flights completely and Eurowings has discontinued ticket sales for flights from Zagreb to Berlin and Dusseldorf from March onwards. FlyDubai has significantly reduced the number of wintertime weekly flights. Furthermore, Eurowings will be operating flights to Hamburg for a shorter time period in the summer only, and Swiss Air has completely cancelled its flights to Zurich.

Exodus After Short-term Incentives Expire

Eurowings has cited high fees at Zagreb as a deterrent for introducing new routes. And now that it will cut the two routes mentioned above. It will only be serving Cologne and Stuttgart from Zagreb. EasyJet, Ryanair and Wizz Air do not serve Zagreb at all. EasyJet left the airport in 2014, also citing high fees.

The pattern of route cancellations is interesting too. Zagreb Airport offers incentives to airlines for new routes, and airlines make use of them. But as soon as the incentives stop, they tend to pull out. CSA Czech Airlines introduced year-round flights between Prague Václav Havel Airport and Zagreb in the summer of 2016. As it was a new route, the airline was given significant discounts on various charges. Discounts for winter operations were particularly high. But, CSA Czech Airlines made use of the incentives for one winter and then discontinued winter services for 2017/18. Finally, in 2019 it also discontinued summer flights and has left the airport completely.

Emirates operated daily flights to Zagreb for a one winter before pulling out of Zagreb completely, as did Korean Air. There is a clear pattern here: an airline will leave as soon as the incentives package expires.

From January until June 2020, Croatia will take its turn at EU presidency. And yet the country’s capital has only 14 airlines maintaining year-round routes, even during this time period.

Follow our Travel page for more information on airlines and travel options to Croatia.

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Friday, 27 January 2017

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