Boom Town

CSA Czech Airlines is reinforcing its position of its Prague hub as a major gate for Eastern Europe ahead of the Czech Republic's accession to European Union in May. February 2004 Jiri Pos, Executive VP Ground Operations, CSA Czech Airlines...

CSA Czech Airlines is reinforcing its position of its Prague hub as a major gate for Eastern Europe ahead of the Czech Republic's accession to European Union in May.

February 2004

Jiri Pos, Executive VP Ground Operations Jiri Pos, Executive VP Ground Operations, CSA Czech Airlines (all photos: CSA)

Prague Ruzyne Airport, which serves the Czech Republic's picture postcard capital city, has perfected the building site look so beloved by airports around the world. But while construction activity may cause temporary inconvenience to passengers and operators, it nonetheless signals one important thing: welcome growth.

Years of enviable traffic increases have seen the Czech Airport Authority commit to Project Europa, the centrepiece of which involves the construction of a new Terminal North 2. The new facility, with a price tag of CZK10 billion ($400 million), is scheduled to open at the end of 2005. Preparations are also being made for the construction of a new parallel runway.

Happily for airport managers, Prague is seeing passenger growth across the board and last year the airport handled seven million passengers for the first time. The forecast is to hit the 10 million mark by 2010.

Prague has enjoyed a particular boom in the low-cost carrier segment as operators continue to serve the seemingly unquenchable thirst among travellers for cut-price tickets to one of Europe's tourist hot spots. The number of passengers travelling on such carriers leapt 116 percent during the third quarter of 2003 and Prague now justifiably claims to be the centre of low-cost carrier operations in the region.

The low-cost segment is led by easyJet, the ubiquitous British carrier that serves Prague from Bristol, Newcastle, London Stansted and East Midland airports. But easyJet is not alone. Last year, Prague welcomed five additional low-cost operators to the market: Germany's Germanwings, Italian carrier Volareweb, the SAS low-cost unit Snowflake, plus the UK's Jet2 and FlyBe.

Given its liberal market, operators can access the city's main airport rather than far-flung secondary sites, and favourable economic conditions, Prague's attraction to low-cost carriers is clear. In fact all airlines at Prague can benefit from an annual 50 percent discount on landing fees in return for the introduction of routes to new destinations from the airport.

With European Union (EU) accession fast approaching, the Czech Airport Authority is determined to cement Prague as the commercial and administrative centre for the eastern region of an enlarged Europe. As such, airport managers believe that the growth of low-cost traffic will ultimately also help boost revenues for full service carriers at the airport, including national carrier CSA Czech Airlines.

"Both low-cost carriers and standard airline companies have recorded a massive increase in the number of passengers," said Martin Kacur, CEO of the Czech Airport Authority, speaking late last year. "The number of passengers has been enlarged by those who have never before considered the option of using air transportation; low-cost carriers have offered an interesting alternative, and when travelling next time these passengers could use the services of standard airline companies."

Eastern promise
Certainly, the opportunity to develop Prague as an important gateway between Western and Eastern Europe, and all points beyond, has long proved equally compelling for CSA.

Understandably, expectations are high at the carrier, particularly following the reshuffling of CSA's board of directors in September. Certainly, the arrival of a new CEO, together with additional member changes, all designed to rejuvenate the carrier's mission, has only served to accelerate plans to extend CSA's operational reach further east.

CSA recently launched a host of new services, including daily services to Sliac (a spa town in neighbouring Slovakia), Yerevan (the capital of Armenia) and Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia). Elsewhere, the carrier has also expanded existing commercial agreements with DBA Belavia on the Prague-Minsk route and with Air Moldova covering the Prague-Chisinau route.

For the summer season, CSA plans to expand even further east with services to Ekaterinburg and Samara (both in Russia), Baku (Azerbaijan), Krakow (Poland) and possibly the Romanian city of Cluj.

In total, from March, CSA will serve 75 destinations in 44 countries, including a particularly healthy Eastern Europe network that extends from St. Petersburg in the north to Sofia (Bulgaria) in the south.

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