VIA cargo operation in decline

News of a decline of cargo shipping at Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE) may confirm analysts’ warnings that the economic crisis is not over.

A spokesman for the aerodrome – which is located a few kilometres outside Vienna – said today (Thurs) that the volume of cargo transported to and from VIA declined by 8.6 per cent to 24,404 tons from October 2010 to the same month of this year. He added that the number of departures and landings of passenger and cargo planes slid by 0.7 per cent to 21,636. The number of passengers increased at the same time. More than 1,914 million customers were counted at Austria’s busiest airport last month, up by 4.7 per cent compared to the same time span of the previous year.

Leading economists have warned in recent weeks and months that the global economy and federal economies in Europe may grow less strongly than initially predicted in the coming years due to the Eurozone’s debt turmoil, a possible decline of export and consumption. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced in September that the economy in the Eurozone – the 17 European Union (EU) states which use the Euro – will do just 1.1 per cent better in 2012 than this year. IMF experts predicted a gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 1.8 per cent half a year earlier. They said in September that Austria’s GDP would rise by 1.6 per cent from this to next year. IMF’s spring 2011 forecast claimed that the country’s economy would grow by 2.3 per cent from 2011 to 2012.

VIA is managed by Flughafen Wien AG (FW), a company in which the city of Vienna and the provincial parliament of Lower Austria hold stakes of 20 per cent in. This engagement makes the political institutions the firm’s main stakeholders. Permanent political influence on decisions by the FW board has been considered as an obstacle in making VIA even more profitable.

FW is headed by Julian Jäger, who previously managed Malta International Airport (MLA), and Günther Ofner. Jäger is close to the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), the strongest political body on federal scale and in Vienna. Ofner formerly masterminded projects of Burgenland Holding AG. He has strong ties with the People’s Party (ÖVP) which has an absolute majority in Lower Austria where VIA is situated. The conservative party forms a coalition with the SPÖ in the federal parliament.

Jäger and Ofner took office in September. They said in the same month that FW would not hire any additional employees in the coming years to reduce costs. The firm has 4,200 employees at the moment. Asked whether staff could be dismissed, the businessmen called the option a “last resort”. They explained the focus would be on abstaining from replacing retiring employees.

Around 80 airlines do business at VIA. The airport recorded 19.7 million passengers in 2010, 8.7 per cent more than in 2009. Last year’s figure was a new record – and came as a surprise for many aviation experts since VIA was one of the dozens of European airports affected by temporary shutdowns of airspace due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, a volcano in Iceland. The second-busiest airport of Austria is Salzburg Airport W. A. Mozart (SZG). It had 1.6 million passengers in 2010.

Ofner said last month VIA had the potential to serve between 28 million and 30 million passengers in a few years’ time because of the airport’s long-term infrastructure projects such as the creation of a third runway – which groups formed by hundreds of local residents are trying to stop. The FW co-chief also revealed his enterprise may make arrangements at VIA to enable touchdowns of Airbus A380 jets, the biggest passenger plane in operation.