FROM THE LATEST ISSUE OF ROUTES NEWS: Our sister publication speaks to Prague Airport's director of aviation business, Jiri Vyskoc, on how the airport is transforming along with its home carrier.
Q) How have the changes at Czech Airlines affected the airport?
A) Czech Airlines is the largest carrier at Václav Havel Airport Prague, so it naturally influences airport operations. The carrier has gone through a process of network optimisation, focusing on profitable routes and reducing its unprofitable services, which were mostly those dependent on transfer traffic. Currently, Czech Airlines offers, in co-operation with Korean Air, its 44% shareholder and strategic partner, incremental frequencies on its long-haul route to Seoul. Its existing co-operation with Travel Service on a codeshare basis also continues. Travel Service will become another Czech Airlines shareholder by the end of the year, joining Korean Air, Czech Aeroholding and Česká Pojišťovna, a minority shareholder.
Q) How has your traffic mix at the airport changed since the economic downturn?
A) We saw a slow down in low-cost traffic growth in 2009, but in 2011, the segment started growing again and currently represents 25% of our passengers. The full service carriers’ share has increased slightly and now holds about 64%-66% of our traffic. The most significant change has been with charter traffic, which dropped to 10% of our passenger traffic over the past five years. During the past two years, there has been a tendency for charter passengers to switch to regular scheduled flights, predominantly serviced by low-cost carriers.
Q) How has traffic to and from Prague performed over the past year?
A) The airport handled 11 million passengers in 2013, representing a year-on-year increase of 1.5%. The number of local passengers increased by 3.5%. The only category that recorded a decrease in results was transfer passengers. We expect to see our passenger numbers grow 2% this year.
Q) Do you forecast your low-cost traffic growing in the future?
A) The number of passengers on low-cost carrier flights grew by 5.9% year-on-year in 2013. For the upcoming summer schedule, the most evident growth in seat capacity is in the LCC segment.
Q) Korean Air is already serving Prague – is attracting more Asian carriers to the airport a priority?
A) The number of passengers on flights between Prague and Korea has been growing steadily. The increase in capacity of flights between Prague and Seoul provides passengers with new options for travelling to Asia via Seoul. Prague has also become a transfer point for Korean passengers travelling to Europe. We see potential for routes to China, Vietnam and Thailand. Chinese visitors to the Czech Republic have been consistently growing by double-digit figures for the past five years, and, currently rank as the second biggest tourist market to Prague. Prague is also home to many people from the Vietnamese community, the third largest ethnic minority living in the Czech Republic. And currently, there are no direct scheduled connections to Thailand.
Q) Which routes would you most like to add to Prague’s network?
A) In Asia, it would be Shanghai, Beijing, Hanoi and Bangkok. Developing long-haul routes to North America is also a priority and there is room for capacity increase on existing connections to New York and Toronto, both of which are only serviced seasonally. We believe there is potential for a direct service to Chicago. We would also like to see flights to Cairo return. In Europe, we have a number of new connections for the summer schedule, but would also like service to Goteborg, Birmingham, Bilbao, Tallinn and Zagreb.
Q) Prague continues to be one of the most visited cities in Europe – what makes the city so popular with tourists?
A) Prague attracts tourists from all over the world with its romantic allure. Prague’s appeal lies in its architecture and rich cultural and social life. The perception of Prague and the Czech Republic as a cheap destination has shifted, and while prices are still lower than some other European cities, Prague offers high quality services and products, which attract tourists who are interested in culture and heritage.
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