STA, 5 December - Fraport Slovenija's new managing director Babett Stapel, who took over at the helm of the company operating Ljubljana's international airport in October, is optimistic about the airline industry and airport's future. She sees the industry's recovery, providing connectivity, and increasing staff numbers as key challenges post-pandemic.
The pandemic has hit the Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport quite hard. It had 339,000 passengers in the first ten months, up from 282,000 in the same period 2020. The figure is expected to rise to 407,000 by the end of the year, which is 40% more than in 2020 but still 75% below 2019.
Growth has been partly fuelled by Slovenia's EU presidency, with Stapel telling the STA in an interview it was a nice surprise that despite the pandemic, a number of events were held in-person. The presidency has thus brought some 20,000 passengers.
The airport plans some 900,000 passengers in 2022, which is still 44% fewer than the 1.6 million it set itself as the basis, so Stapel expects full recovery only in 2025.
Although the new reality makes forecasts very hard to make, she remains optimistic for 2022, wishing the EU would unify measures and rules as soon as possible to make travel easier, which would benefit the entire air travel industry.
Cargo transport at Ljubljana airport has meanwhile increased by 12% this year compared to 2019 and by 21% compared to 2020. Since growth is expected to continue at one-dight rates until 2030, Fraport Slovenija is planning new investments in cargo infrastructure.
Stapel says that apart from the EUR 23 million invested in the new passenger terminal, which opened on 1 July, the company has invested another EUR 39.5 million in the infrastructure, equipment and IT since it started managing the airport in 2015.
She says it was strict cost cutting and strong ties with business partners to have enabled Fraport Slovenija to relatively successfully weather the coronacrisis.
Also thanks to EUR 5 million in state aid in compensation for the airport's closure for passenger transport in 2020, the company expects a positive EBITDA, while the bottom line will still be negative this year.
Further recovery of passenger air transport and ensuing connectivity is what she sees as the company's a key challenge for the future. She says close cooperation between the airport, air carriers, tourist industry and the state is of utmost importance.
In this respect, she expects the state subsidy scheme for airlines to ensure Slovenia's connectivity to be extended to this winter season and the next summer season.
As passenger numbers are expected to further grow, Fraport is also planning new hirings after having to lay off some staff last year. Around a fifth of those laid off will be hired, Stapel says, while new staff will also be sought, which she expects to be quite hard given the current situation in the labour market.