RIGA - Riga International Airport needs to expand its terminal, the airport’s CEO Arnis Luhse said in an interview with Latvian State Radio on May 10, despite the recent report on the drop in air passenger numbers, reports Nozare.lv. Luhse explained that the airport is currently designed to handle three million passengers each year. The number of passengers is not the only consideration for expansion plans, though, as there are also several other issues hampering the airport’s current operations. For example, this includes passenger flows from the Schengen Area and other countries that are not sufficiently separated.
The situation is made worse by the fact that the flights are cyclical. Morning and evening flights are performed more frequently, causing the so-called rush hours.
Luhse believes that the project should have been implemented by the airport’s former CEOs, when there were sufficient funds.
The airport plans to implement its terminal expansion project, which will allow to service up to seven million passengers per year. Luhse estimates that the airport, in theory, could service 10-12 million passengers per year, if they are attracted from all Baltic States.
The lack of funding is the main issue in this regard. During the next two years, the airport will not have enough money to develop the terminal, emphasized Luhse.
The government also cannot afford to fund the project and the airport is assessing two potential project implementation scenarios - investor attraction and EU funds for the next planning period (post-2014).
Unexpected drop in passenger numbers
On May 9 the business daily Dienas Bizness wrote that the number of airline passengers is significantly dropping in Riga. Riga International Airport passenger turnover decreased 8.7 percent this past April, compared to April 2011. The national airline airBaltic, possibly, recorded an even steeper decrease.
If the trend persists, the airport will service 500,000 less passengers this year, compared to 2011. This will, in turn, mean that the airport’s turnover will decrease by 3 million euros, affecting 500 jobs in all related companies, says Dienas Bizness.
After such a dramatic decline, the airport may not need its new terminal (this project has not moved beyond talks for several years), or any other considerable infrastructure investments.
Last year, the airport serviced more than five million passengers, reaching the category of medium-sized airport. However, after receiving the airlines’ projections, the airport expects a slight decrease in its passenger turnover this year, confirmed the airport’s public relations unit head Sarmite Rinmane.
It is possible that 2011 was the most successful year in the airport’s history. These results will most likely not be matched in the near future. The largest airlines - airBaltic and Ryanair are reducing their flights. New airlines, for example Estonian Air, entered the market; however, they do not have that many passengers to compensate for the airBaltic passenger turnover losses, explains aviation expert Talis Linkaits.
It’s all a “Tempest in a teapot,” says CEO Luhse in an interview with Latvian State Radio last week.
Luhse said that these figures should be assessed within the context of the first four months of 2012. Compared with the respective period in 2011, the airport’s passenger turnover has fallen by 20,000, which corresponds to the number of passengers serviced at the airport during one summer day. At the moment, the airport services 16,000 passengers per day.
RIX still regional leader
In January-April 2012, the airport serviced 1.3 million passengers. Other rivals serve considerably fewer passengers. For instance, Vilnius Airport services 1.4 million passengers throughout the entire year.
Luhse also pointed out that, even though airBaltic is reducing the number of flights due to restructuring, other airlines, for example Lufthansa and Wizz Air, are increasing the number of flights to or from Riga Airport.
The airport’s CEO is convinced that, just like last year, the airport will service more than five million passengers this year.