Austrian low-cost carrier secured a lot of media attention when it first revealed plans to launch flights from Bratislava in Slovakia in December last year due to the introduction of a scheduled link from its current Vienna International Airport base, one of the world’s shortest international flights and certainly the shortest scheduled flight between two capital cities. However, after initially delaying the launch from summer 2015 to winter 2015/2016, it appears this flight may never now take off.
The initial plan was to launch operations from Bratislava’s M. R. Štefánik Airport from April 1, 2015 with flights to Brussels and Palma de Mallorca also operating from the Eastern European facility. But, in late January 2015 the carrier deferred the launch until October 2015 and dropped the planned link to the Balearic Islands. In the last few days the carrier has now removed both the Vienna and Brussels schedules from its GDS inventory and flights are no longer available for reservation.
A senior marketing official at Niki confirmed this week that its proposed offering from Bratislava can no longer operate successfully “due to a change in the economic model” of the carrier. Alongside the fanfare of the Vienna link, the Brussels service would have provided an important link ahead of Slovakia assuming the EU Council presidency for six months from July 2016.
It is no surprise that the proposed Bratislava – Vienna secured the attention of the world’s media. The cities are just 48 kilometres apart, just under an hour by car and even less by train. When you factor in it’s a 15 minute drive to the airport from downtown Bratislava, and 20 minutes from Vienna and add early arrival for check-in and airport procedures, it would be quicker to travel by bus and certainly a lot cheaper.
Niki said at the time the flights were announced that it believed there would be sufficient demand for the short flights, which despite a 25 minute block time were estimated to be just ten minutes in length. The majority of this demand would have been to feed its wider network from Vienna International Airport, according to the carrier.
The world's shortest flight is currently the mile-long journey from Westray to Papa Westray in Scotland's Orkney Islands, which can take as few as 47 seconds, depending on wind direction.
Alongside serving the local Slovak market, Bratislava has been used by both foreign and local carriers as a low-cost gateway for Vienna and parts of the Austrian market, providing an alternative option for price conscious travellers. This is not the only time European airlines have used flights to one country to support two distinct country markets.
For example, budget airline flights to Malmo in Sweden can efficiently also serve those wishing to fly to the Danish capital, Copenhagen. Until the Danish city's primary air gateway, Copenhagen Airport, embraced the arrival of low-cost carriers, Irish budget airline Ryanair even marketed its flights between London and Malmo as serving Copenhagen for a period of time before advertising regulators clamped down on the promotion.