FW boss sees 30mn passenger potential

Flughafen Wien AG (FW) co-chief Günther Ofner has said Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE) could serve up to 30 million customers a year soon.

Ofner – who took office last month – said yesterday (Thurs) VIA may register between 28 million and 30 million passengers in a few years’ time thanks to the airport’s long-term infrastructure plans. FW, which operates the aerodrome, wants to build a third runway to increase VIA’s capacities.

Ofner made clear that the runway would not be put into operation before 2020 or 2021 even if arguments considering the project’s environmental compatibility were to be sorted out shortly. FW has been engaged in a war of words with local residents who have taken to the streets to voice concerns about increased noise pollution and negative effects on the environment if another runway were to be set built at VIA.

VIA counted 19.7 million passengers last year, up by 8.7 per cent from the previous year. The figure surprised some analysts since vast parts of the European airspace were shut for several weeks in 2010 following the eruption of a volcano in Iceland. Large amounts of ash were spread across the continent in the incident. Aviation safety authorities decided to prevent airlines from operating over fears of negative effects on planes’ engines.

VIA is Austria’s busiest airport ahead of Salzburg Airport W. A. Mozart (SZG) which recorded 1.6 million passengers in 2010. VIA is located a few kilometres south-east of Vienna. Around 80 airlines operate at the aerodrome.

Ofner also said yesterday FW’s turnover in 2012 could surpass FW’s performance of 2011 by 25 million Euros because of ongoing restructuring and cost-cutting measures affecting material expenses and personnel costs. FW achieved a turnover increase of 6.4 per cent to 533.8 million Euros from 2009 to 2010. The company’s earnings before interest and taxes (Ebit) improved by 2.8 per cent to 102.3 million Euros at the same time.

Ofner and FW co-chief Julian Jäger revealed shortly after taking over from Christoph Herbst that FW would not hire any additional staff in the coming years. The enterprise, which is listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange (WBAG), has 4,200 employees at the moment. Ofner and Jäger explained the plan was not to replace retiring workers, adding that sackings were the “last resort”.

Speaking about the scandal-hit Skylink project, Ofner said FW would manage to keep costs under 800 million Euros. He also announced that Skylink would be used as of June 2012. It will be VIA’s fourth terminal. FW initially planned to open it ahead of the European Football Championship 2008. Its construction started in 2002 and was stopped several times in 2009 and 2010 when rumours about an explosion of costs erupted.

Decision-makers said the project would cost less than 400 million Euros when its construction was kicked off. Staff of building companies previously assigned to construct the airport are facing charges for fraud. Several offices and homes have been raided in past months. Prosecutors are still investigating what is widely seen as one of Austria’s biggest post-war business scams.

Skylink could make landings of Airbus A380 jets possible. The aircraft – the biggest passenger plane in operation – provides space for up to 853 passengers. Germany’s Lufthansa, Dubai-based carrier Emirates and other airlines acquired several A380 planes. Bosses of Emirates recently hinted they would use their A380 jets to operate between VIA and Dubai International Airport (DXB) if FW changed the Austrian aerodrome’s infrastructure appropriately. Ofner recently said changes to enable A380 landings were possible, but added that FW had received no official requests for touchdowns and departures of the giant jet to date. He did not comment on the issue yesterday.

Asked whether FW considered acquiring M. R. Stefanik Airport (BTS) near Slovakian capital Bratislava, Ofner explained FW could “check” the issue in case of open bidding. Speculations about a possible sale of the airport – which is used by a string of budget airlines – have been around for months. Some experts have suggested FW and BTS could pool resources. BTS is less than an hours’ drive from VIA. Thousands of Austrians are travelling to Bratislava every year to reach their holiday destinations and go on business trips using services by airlines operating at BTS.