Blue Air expands route network, secures €62 million loan approval

Romanian carrier Blue Air will grow its network at home and in Italy later this year.

Blue Air is expanding operations from bases in its home market of Romania as well as Italy over the coming months as the LCC rebuilds and reshapes its domestic and international network.

The move comes as the European Commission has approved a Romanian government loan guarantee of up to around €62 million ($73 million) to help secure the future of the Bucharest-based airline.

Two new routes are being launched from Turin (TRN) in September following the basing of a second aircraft at the airport in northern Italy, while seven are being opened from Bacău (BCM) in Romania with the stationing of a third Boeing 737 in October. In addition, from March 2021 five new destinations are set to begin from Bucharest (OTP).

The airline plans to add two Italian destinations from TRN, operating 6X-weekly to Bari (BRI) and 4X-weekly to Cagliari (CAG). Frequencies are also being added on existing domestic routes to Alghero (AHO), Catania (CTA), Lamezia (SUF) and Naples (NAP).

The Romanian LCC's CEO Oana Petrescu said the expansion was part of the LCC’s plans to offer better connectivity between “key regions” in Italy, adding that Blue Air was “quickly adapting to the growing demand for domestic travel” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This choice is not only consistent with the increase in travel demand in Italy that is characterizing this second half of 2020, but it also follows the strong demand for higher frequencies and more competitive prices that have always been expressed by our catchment area,” TRN CEO Andrea Andorno added.

According to data provided by OAG Schedules Analyser, Blue Air was the largest carrier from TRN in 2018 offering 589,940 departure seats. However, the airline slipped to number two last year behind Ryanair after cutting capacity from the airport by more than 200,000 seats.

From BCM, Blue Air is starting seven new routes from October. A 2X-weekly service is being added to Athens (ATH), 4X-weekly to OTP; 3X-weekly to Cluj Napoca (CLJ); 2X-weekly to Cologne (CGN), 2X-weekly to Larnaca (LCA), 2X-weekly to Munich (MUC); and 2X-weekly to Paris Beauvais (BVA). 

BCM is currently closed for modernization works, with planned flights transferred to Suceava (SCV), about 170 km away. However, the work is expected to have been completed by the end of September, in time for the launch of Blue Air’s new flights.

The airline’s planned expansion comes as rival Wizz Air gears up to grow from BCM. The Hungarian ULCC is stationing two Airbus A320 aircraft at the airport from October, launching 12 new services to six countries.

Among the new routes being launched by Wizz are flights to Bologna (BLQ), Liverpool (LPL), London Luton (LTN), Milan Bergamo (BGY), Rome Fiumicino (FCO) and TRN, which were all served nonstop by Blue Air prior to the pandemic.

As well as the growth from TRN and BCM, the latest GDS data shows that Blue Air will add five destinations from OTP in late March 2021. Service is being launched to ATH, BRI, MUC, Prague (PRG) and Vienna (VIE). 

Earlier this week, the EC gave the green light to a Romanian loan guarantee of up to around €62 million to “compensate” Blue Air for damages suffered by the coronavirus outbreak and provide “urgent liquidity support.”

“This will avoid disruptions for passengers and ensure regional connectivity in particular for the significant number of Romanian citizens working abroad and for many small local businesses that depend on affordable tickets offered by Blue Air on a network of routes aimed at addressing their specific needs,” the EC’s executive VP in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager said.

About €28 million will compensate Blue Air for the damage directly caused by the coronavirus outbreak and the travel restrictions introduced across Europe, while €34 million is classed as rescue aid in the form of a public guarantee on a loan intended to partly cover the loss-making airline’s liquidity needs.

Photo credit: Nigel Howarth / Aviation Week