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Tatra Air, ČSA can only gain from cooperation

Cooperation between Slovakia's largest airline, Tatra Air, which was born as recently as 1993, and Czech Airlines (ČSA), one of the largest European airlines, is essential for both to profit from the relatively small Slovak market. Though both airlines are competing for the same customers, managers at each company agree that the strategy for both should be to find new ways to strengthen cooperation.
Tatra Air is especially strapped since they cannot afford many direct flights from Bratislava to the rest of the world. Thus, all flights to major destinations must be made through Prague on ČSA, which costs time and money. "A flight from Bratislava to London, via Prague, takes approximately 5 hours," said Peter Sivak, ČSA director for Bratislava and Piešťany. "A direct flight from Vienna to London takes 2 and a half hours," he explained.

Cooperation between Slovakia's largest airline, Tatra Air, which was born as recently as 1993, and Czech Airlines (ČSA), one of the largest European airlines, is essential for both to profit from the relatively small Slovak market. Though both airlines are competing for the same customers, managers at each company agree that the strategy for both should be to find new ways to strengthen cooperation.

Tatra Air is especially strapped since they cannot afford many direct flights from Bratislava to the rest of the world. Thus, all flights to major destinations must be made through Prague on ČSA, which costs time and money. "A flight from Bratislava to London, via Prague, takes approximately 5 hours," said Peter Sivak, ČSA director for Bratislava and Piešťany. "A direct flight from Vienna to London takes 2 and a half hours," he explained.

Herein lies the biggest problem - Bratislava's proximity to Vienna. Karel Nemec, Tatra Air's commercial and operations manager, said that it would be much more profitable for Tatra Air to be located somewhere away from Vienna.

Despite the fact that Tatra Air offers its customers the same on-board services and lower prices compared to, say, Austrian Airlines, business travellers prefer to fly in to Vienna for a business trip to Bratislava, due to the airport's "perfect" connections. "Being based in Sofia or Bucharest would have been much easier for my company," said Tatra Air's Nemec, "simply because for those routes, passengers do not have such a diversified and complete offer as Vienna."

To combat this disadvantage, a partnership was sought by both airlines. "Without a partnership, it would be extremely difficult even to survive," said Sivak. According to Nemec, Tatra Air has signed a significant commercial cooperation agreement with ČSA to link ticket pricing. "This enables passengers who arrive in Prague on a Tatra Air flight to continue on to other destinations by using ČSA flights," said Nemec.

Nemec went on to explain that it is a "win-win" situation for both airlines. "For example, a businessman in Manchester has to fly to Bratislava," he started. "He goes to the ČSA office and the ČSA representative would love to give him a seat but there is a two hour wait in Prague, until another ČSA aircraft leaves for Bratislava. That businessman would choose Vienna 100 percent of the time. But if you offered him a seat from Prague to Tatra Air, which leaves immediately for Bratislava, that means profit for ČSA and profit for Tatra Air and, most importantly, a satisfied customer,"

Both managers mentioned the possibility of routing more passengers via Prague and Bratislava thanks to European Union (EC) restrictions at EU borders: the Shengen Agreement, scheduled to be put into effect December 1, threatens to cause border hassles. "When the Shengen Agreement goes into motion, it may be more convenient for East-European travellers to fly from Bratislava," said Nemec. "But we don't know yet."

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