The air service development team at Budapest Airport believe the recent announcement by Emirates Airline that it will introduce flights between Athens and Newark using fifth freedom traffic rights as an extension of its existing service from Dubai, could help it in its ongoing push to resurrect non-stop connectivity with the United States of America. The Budapest – New York city pair is its largest unserved market, but it has been six years since non-stop flights were last operated.
The gateway to Hungary, Budapest Airport, welcomed 11.4 million passengers by the end of 2016, a second successive year of double-digit annual increases in passenger traffic. This has been mainly driven by short-haul low-cost operations which helped initially to fill the void from the collapse of national carrier Malev, but to now grow Ferenc Liszt International Airport to record levels.
But, despite this spectacular success, it has been unable to secure another scheduled link to the United States since American Airlines ended its New York service in December 2011. Malev had also served the Budapest – New York market up until 2008 and Delta Air Lines until September 2011. Latest annual data shows that almost 450,000 of those 11.4 million passengers using the airport in 2016 were indirect travellers from the US, with New York alone showing an 180,000 potential passenger market.
“Last summer we recorded 611 PPDEW between the US and Hungary, making us the biggest country market unserved from the US – similar sized country pairs have at least ten weekly flights,” Balázs Bogáts, head of airline development, Budapest Airport explained to Routesonline ahead of the opening of the Routes Americas air service development forum in Las Vegas, USA.
“Toronto had just a third of the indirect traffic we have from New York, and less than a year into operation, Air Canada rouge has added a further two weekly services on its link to Ontario’s provincial capital. With such success on the Toronto route, there is no doubt that an airline would experience fantastic results operating a New York link from Budapest,” he added.
Alongside New York, the most wanted US routes from Budapest include Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Washington. Bogáts projects a steady ten per cent growth for the country market in the coming year: “The market size has doubled since our last US route was served in 2011, and I’d confidently envisage a seasonal operation to New York generating at least 150,000 round-trip passengers,” he said.
Holding its position as one of Europe’s fastest growing airports, Budapest has recorded a remarkable 25 per cent growth in the last two years. The capital city airport can look back on another successful year of inaugural flights with 23 new routes in 2016, of which 16 were new destinations.
With a total to 111 destinations on its route network, the airport has already announced eleven new routes and the arrival of another new airline partner in 2017: Flybe, operated by Stobart Air, which will boost links to London by starting the airport’s fifth link to the UK capital city in May.
The beginning of summer 2017 will be a busy period of launches for Budapest with Wizz Air confirming the addition of nine new services: Faro, Skopje, Podgorica, Tirana, Sarajevo, Pristina, Hannover, Bergen and Lamezia Terme. Meanwhile TAP Portugal returns with a daily service to Lisbon, and easyJet commences the airport’s second link to Amsterdam.
The growing interest in Budapest as a destination is certainly helping to put Ferenc Liszt International on an increasing number of airline network maps, but for Kam Jandu, chief commercial officer, Budapest Airport, a long-haul link to the US is seen as a route of strategic national importance to Hungary.
“We were delighted to see the announcement by Emirates Airline for the Athens – Newark flight. Each year during airline route planning cycle, we share the latest data for a Budapest – New York service with likely operators and, given a market size which is not too different from the Athens city pair, (when considering no direct competition) airlines are interested,” he told Routesonline this week.
Since the news broke, Jandu confirmed that the Budapest team have “of course reached out to our contacts in capable airlines,” which include Emirates, Qatar Airways, Norwegian and the US majors, all of whom have the rights to operate. “I can also reveal that the relevant Ministries in Hungary deem the USA, and in particular New York, a route of strategic national importance, and they are evaluating ways to legally and feasibily financially support the first mover,” he explained.
“There is no doubt that 2018 must see flights resume, after all, the route is growing by 15 per cent year-on-year and Budapest remains one of the fastest growing business and leisure markets in the European Union,” he added.