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'The airport has always been a subject of interest'

MAROŠ Jančula considers the option of renting Bratislava Airport to a strategic partner for a long-term period a viable option. The head of Bratislava Airport also suggests that airports elsewhere are being rented for as long as 65 years, but points out that they remain in the hands of the state, which also retains partial interim control over them, and that after the rental period expires they are returned to the state in the same condition – or even improved.

MAROŠ Jančula considers the option of renting Bratislava Airport to a strategic partner for a long-term period a viable option. The head of Bratislava Airport also suggests that airports elsewhere are being rented for as long as 65 years, but points out that they remain in the hands of the state, which also retains partial interim control over them, and that after the rental period expires they are returned to the state in the same condition – or even improved.

Jančula confirmed that interest from investors can already be detected. In an interview with Sme daily and The Slovak Spectator, Jančula spoke about the development prospects of the airport, possible new connections and the challenges that the air terminal faces.

The Slovak Spectator: Are you currently in negotiations with new air carriers?

Maroš Jančula (MJ): We are negotiating with current carriers who operate here now about enhancement of their operations. We are negotiating with airlines that would be utterly new to the airport and who have already shown an interest in operating flights from Bratislava.

TSS: For some time there have been rumours about interest from Turkish Airlines; the carrier itself has publicly declared an interest in flying to Slovakia. Are you negotiating with it?

MJ: I would like to leave potential confirmation of negotiations to these carriers. It would be possible to name a list of carriers with whom we communicate, but so far we have not chosen such a policy. The carrier is the one who bears the biggest commercial risk, so let it decide whether it wishes to confirm an interest.

TSS: Why is Bratislava so attractive for classical airlines from the East?

MJ: It is all about the saturation of the market. Airports in Vienna and Budapest are swamped and this is what sets the prices at different levels. Many airlines from the East have grown and now they want to expand.

Bratislava has its advantage and disadvantage as well: the disadvantage is the proximity of Vienna, and the advantage is its free capacities. Armavia, with its flights to Yerevan, has made a strategic decision – this was not about nobody wanting to fly to Bratislava.

TSS: In the past you said that there was interest in routes to Kiev and Moscow, but their launch is obstructed by bilateral agreements that define authorised carriers who can fly between the two countries. Are any carriers exerting pressure to have these agreements changed?

MJ: The carriers know the arrangements. Any arrangement can be opened only by two partners; in this case it is the transport ministries of Slovakia, Ukraine or Russia. We can help but we are not the ones to decide. Our task is more or less a passive one.

TSS: Do you know if carriers are negotiating with the ministry?

MJ: It has been going on for some time already. Maybe we will soon get a positive reaction from Moscow through our ministry.

TSS: Can you imagine a connection between Bratislava and Moscow via a low-cost airline?

MJ: Of course, why not? Russian companies are expanding strongly now and it would be a very interesting alternative for passengers who currently fly with expensive tickets from Vienna.

TSS: How are you preparing for the upcoming Ice Hockey World Championship?

MJ: The negotiations with relevant organisations are underway. We are also making technical adjustments to extended boarding gates to widen the space for passengers in the so-called non-Schengen zone. Maybe fans from Russia and other parts of the world will come. At the same time, we want to create a space for temporary expansion of services for passengers during the World Championship.

TSS: What is the financial condition of the airport?

MJ: We are operating at a profit but depreciation creates an overall loss. We are able to finance everything ourselves, except for larger investments.

TSS: The draft plan for the airport’s future says there are serious problems with the runway. Its reconstruction will require €233 million over the next ten years. The draft points to the fact that reconstruction of the point at which the runways intersect will mean the airport is put out of operation. Will this mean there are no flights from Bratislava?

MJ: Yes, exactly. Flying would be limited entirely according to the length of the available part of the runway. The runway could be used only for some types of aircraft.

TSS: Is it realistic to limit local flights?

MJ: It happens that airports are closed for six months or a year. The question is whether we can afford this, or whether we would be better advised to look for other options.

TSS: What are those other options? The ministerial draft mentions them too.

MJ: These would be relatively major interventions in the total reconstruction of the runway, e.g. its extension towards the Malý Dunaj River, thus creating a total length that would be sufficient during reconstruction for Boeing 737-700 aircraft to land.

TSS: As an expert on aviation, could you try to explain why offering an operating licence is better for Bratislava Airport than its sale?

MJ: This is not a question for an aviation expert, but rather for an economic expert.

TSS: But the ministry’s draft lacks any economic analysis.

MJ: When taking into consideration all factors currently influencing the market, a licence is probably better. The draft presupposes that it will be read by people who understand what they are reading, so there is no deeper analysis. This is how it is perceived, with all probability. It is not a university textbook that would also explain the foundations of the economic operation of an airport.

TSS: So could you give at least three reasons why a rental would be better than a sale?

MJ: The airport will stay in the state’s hands: the state will retain partial control and, after the rental period expires, it be will returned to the state. If the whole process is well-run and the contract is good, the airport will be returned to the state at least in the same state as when it was taken over by the concessionaire, if not a better state.

TSS: However, one cannot make good forecasts over a term of 20 or 30 years, to be able to predict what might happen. In the last ten years, the aviation sector has made a huge leap.

MJ: At present, airports are rented for as many as 65 years. Do you know what will be in 30 years? How will we travel? Will we need to travel that often by plane at all?

TSS: These are exactly the issues that will be difficult to take into consideration with the knowledge we have today.

MJ: Yes, but it happens nevertheless. It will have to be taken into consideration also in this contract. Today, projects are made for an equally long term – and not only for airports. Nowadays, airports are not only rented in this way, but also built.

TSS: The ministry draft says that by the end of next year a licence-holder, i.e. concessionaire, could be chosen. Are there any specific dates set?

MJ: Up to the end of this year, the requirements for a concessionaire will just be set out. The schedule depends on the ministry. A concessionaire will be chosen in 2012 at the earliest. This is a project we don’t have much experience with, so someone will have to come and advise us: an adviser who could even change some of the views embodied in this concept for aviation.

TSS: Have you noticed any interest so far from the more well-known transport licence-holders?

MJ: So far, nothing specific has taken place, but they never ask directly. As for now, they are making a market outline, to see what happens and how it will happen. We know that the airport has always been a subject of interest. And this is good for an airport – it means that there is something that makes it attractive.

The Sme daily first published a version of this interview with Maroš Jančula on February 7

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