VIA passenger figures soar as ticket tax nears

Vienna International Airport (VIA) has raised its passenger figures prediction for this year as numbers continue to climb.VIA said today (Thurs) it registered 1.83 million passengers last month, up by 11.4 per cent compared to October 2009. The airport, which recorded a 13.8 per cent year on year increase in customers back in September, explained it had decided to increase its prediction for this year on the back of the positive development.VIA said earlier this year that it expected a three per cent year on year improvement in 2010. The airport now announced that its passenger figures were likely to soar by nine per cent this year compared to 2009. It added that a one per cent rise in overall flight movements was likely.These announcement are of immense significance since Flughafen Wien AG, the firm managing the aerodrome located near Schwechat in Lower Austria, is listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange’s (WBAG) prime market. One share is currently worth 48 Euros.Today’s announcement of passenger figures in October mean that VIA looks back on a 8.6 per cent increase of customers year on year in the first 10 months of 2010. New figures also show that the number of people flying to destinations in Eastern Europe (EE) rose by 19.1 per cent last month compared to October 2009, while overall flight movements increased by 3.8 per cent.Analysts of Italy’s UniCredit bank – which holds a major interest in Bank Austria (BA) – announced in August that they expected VIA’s passenger figures to improve by 4.7 per cent year on year in 2010.VIA and aviation experts emphasised that Austria’s biggest airport would have registered significantly more guests so far this year if there had not been a temporary closure of air traffic across Europe following the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull in March.Flughafen Wien AG has come under pressure over the past few months after it emerged that costs of the construction of a new terminal may surpass one billion Euros.Skylink building activities were abandoned last year after a report by magazine profil uncovered that the terminal will cost more than 900 million Euros. Planners had promised expenses would only reach half the amount when construction started five years ago.The terminal was expected to go into operation in 2008 before rumours of dramatic budget overruns increased. The construction recently began again after the Federal Audit Office (RH) checked the books. Experts warned that expenses may range at around one billion Euros as some building activities were outsourced and not considered in initial cost information. The airport’s supervisory board recently said it had been assured Skylink would open in 2012.The issue – already regarded as one of the biggest business scandals in Austria since the end of the war – also upped the pressure on the provincial governments of Vienna and Lower Austria which both hold a 20 per cent interest in Flughafen Wien AG. All members of the company’s executive board are either linked to the People’s Party (ÖVP) or the Social Democrats (SPÖ).Meanwhile, Austrian Airlines (AUA) co-chief Andreas Bierwirth attacked VIA over posters in its arrival area advertising brothels in Vienna. Bierwirth said: “Passengers experience the airport as part of our own services.”The businessman said the commercials, which he branded as “abysmal”, would especially offend travellers arriving in Austria from Arabian countries.Around one out of two flights departing and landing at VIA are operated by AUA which has been taken over by German aviation giant Lufthansa last year.Aviation businessmen and some independent analysts have said traffic at VIA may decline from April 2011 when the Austrian flight ticket tax comes into effect.The federal coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and People’s Party (ÖVP) decided to charge every ticket for flights departing from Austria with a levy of eight to 35 Euros depending on the destinations.SPÖ and ÖVP hope this new tax will help them in their efforts to reduce the state debt which currently ranges around 70 per cent of the annual gross domestic product (GDP).Airline bosses like FlyNiki chief Niki Lauda claimed the only effect this measure would have would be that the whole Austrian economy will suffer in competitiveness. The German government agreed on a similar tax as well.Lisbon Council, a Brussels-based think tank, recently said Germany had the greatest competitiveness among the European Union’s (EU) 16 Eurozone members ahead of Austria.Austria and Germany would be the only European countries with such a levy from next year. The Netherlands abandoned a flight ticket tax model some years ago after only a few months.