Vilnius searches for national airline

  • 2011-08-03
  • From wire reports

VILNIUS - Vilnius International Airport says it is targeting for itself a leading position in the Baltic region, reports an article published in The Lithuanian Ministry of Transport and Communications states that Vilnius International Airport is open to any particular candidate willing to assume the position as the national air carrier, and that those wanting to initiate this activity are becoming increasingly selective.

“Currently competition between airports is based not simply upon lowering taxes, but on the amount of revenue accorded to the airlines. This system is employed by a significant portion of the EU’s regional airports, which are excluded from the list of major airports. Examples of this may include Kaunas International Airport,” Deputy Minister of Transport Rimvydas Vastakas said.

Vilnius Airport has overcome a lengthy recession and secured almost all of the most attractive destinations by reducing its service fees to the lowest rates in the region, thereby admitting low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and Wizair.
“This is the third month where we are growing at not less than 30 percent, and all airlines, both low cost and traditional, show healthy results in growth,” the Vilnius International Airport Director Tomas Vaisvila said.

Vilnius International Airport aims to serve almost two million passengers (about as much as before the downturn) this year and to operate without a loss in the following year. Within five years it is hoping to become the region’s major airport.
“If we keep moving at the current rate, with adequate promotion and growth in purchasing power, in a 5-year period we can become very strong,” the deputy minister of transport believes.
According to a representative of a company which has held a major share of the Vilnius airport market for five years, the airport will not become the region’s leader without transit passengers. And the possibility of transit passengers requires a national carrier.

“Without transit passengers, Vilnius airport cannot become a regional center. This has been the eternal problem of the airport. The base carrier, should it be [the Latvian national airline] airBaltic, or someone else, could establish a transit hub. Because now, if there’s less than 51 percent of Lithuanian capital, aircraft with the Lithuanian flag cannot enter most Eastern countries,” airBaltic Executive Vice-President Vizgirda said.

Lithuanian air transport strategists say they can also achieve the desired goal by developing an open market.
In the current situation, there is no real possibility of moving the Latvian national airline to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius at the moment, because this airport cannot ensure the necessary technical equipment and passenger flows, the chairman of the Latvian Federation of Trade Unions of Civil Aviation Vladimirs Golakovs, said.

“This step, for any company, would be the final option, especially in the aviation industry, where prolonged stoppage leads to staff losing their professional qualifications, and to renew this, much time and finances have to be invested,” Golakovs added.
The Latvian state has received an offer from airBaltic’s private minority shareholder Baltijas Aviacijas Sistemes to alter the airBaltic shareholders agreement and move the airline’s head office to Vilnius.

Latvian Transport Minister Uldis Augulis (Union of Greens and Farmers) previously stressed that the state did not support this proposal, and believes that the airBaltic hub must remain in Riga.