Interview: Aarhus Airport CEO Outlines Network Ambitions

Brian Worm believes the development of hub-feeder service into a European hub remains a huge opportunity.

Credit: Aarhus Airport

Following the announcement that the Danish city of Aarhus will be the host of Routes Europe 2024, Routes caught up with Aarhus Airport (AAR) CEO Brian Worm to learn more about the airport’s pandemic recovery and network priorities.

How is the recovery progressing during the summer season?

We are seeing around 85% recovery month by month to-date versus pre-pandemic traffic levels and there are strong indications that this will improve yet further as the summer progresses, as we anticipate the return of further scheduled business and leisure routes as the coming months go by. We have seen the intra-Scandinavian recovery trend has been slower to return to full pace in the same way as southern European markets, but the domestic shuttle operated by SAS has been very strong.

However, owing to a limitation on available capacity, this service has been moderately constrained by smaller ATR 72 and CRJ-900 equipment, meaning many rush hour flights are to 100% occupancy or oversold. This creates a dampening effect on through-connection capability to larger onward markets and also causes some customer handling issues with passengers delayed one flight to the next. SAS is aware of the situation and engaged with the airport in a future improvement to capacity at peak travel times.

 What new routes are starting this summer? Are there any destinations that are yet to resume that you are hoping will return?

Routes that are new for the summer 2022 season include one new summer destination to each of Spain, Italy, Poland and Latvia by Ryanair. The airline has increased presence at AAR quite dramatically and is now deploying service by Lauda, Buzz and Malta Air, as well as Ryanair itself. Flights to Malaga (AGP) operate twice-weekly and are the longest sector flown by the airline from Aarhus at almost 3.5 hr. duration, while Warsaw Modlin (WMI) is serviced twice-weekly, as with Milan Malpensa (MXP), operated by Malta Air using Boeing 737-8200  equipment.

Riga (RIX) is also new, operating thrice weekly from the Latvian capital. Ryanair added Zadar (ZAD) [in Croatia] and Corfu (CFU) [in Greece] in summer 2021, which were the season’s top two leisure destinations by volume, and Aarhus is keen to welcome further expansion by the Irish carrier.

Wizz Air is a new airline at Aarhus. Starting Sept. 29 the airline will open Aarhus-Bucharest (OTP) for the first time—the first Romanian destination from Aarhus, which is home to a relatively large expatriate community. Flights will be twice-weekly, operated by Airbus A320 aircraft. The airport hopes to see further expansion by the Hungarian-based airline in due course, as Aarhus is by far the largest Nordic city un-serviced by Wizz Air. 

Additionally, Egypt is on the summer destination map for the first time in 2023, with weekly flights to Hurghada (HRG) and Sharm el Sheikh (SSH}}) operated by A320 aircraft of Air Cairo, in conjunction with Danish tour operator Atlantis.

Yet to return to the Aarhus runway from the pandemic period, but with the hope of restarting in the coming seasons, are flights linking the city with Berlin, Munich, Oslo and Stockholm. It is hoped that SAS will reopen Oslo flights in the coming period and thus reconnect the Norwegian capital, while the airport would like to see the return of Lufthansa Group and flights to and from Germany, previously successfully operated by Air Dolomiti.  Swedish carrier BRA (Braathens Regional Airlines) meanwhile opened service at Aarhus in late 2021 from its Gothenburg (GOT) base and ATR 72 flights continue without change-of-aircraft to Stockholm Bromma (BMA). Aarhus is the airline’s first network destination outside of Sweden. 

 What is the visibility like for the 2022/23 winter season?

We expect a solid winter season ahead and a net improvement in traffic beyond 2020 levels, hopeful that COVID’s omicron variety will be a thing of the past and that a new lease on life will appear, especially for ski markets and generally across intra-Scandinavian travel. Leisure services to the sun will cover the Canary Islands, Madeira, southern Spain and two destinations in Egypt, while new services to Milan, Warsaw and Riga are expected to run all winter long as well. A further continuation in Nordic flight volumes and overall capacity will also be welcome as the market is set to continue reestablishing and early indications are that the return to norm for Nordic markets is gaining pace. 

 What are your longer-term network development targets?

We are exploring all avenues, literally, as Aarhus is the largest Nordic metropolitan area without direct service to multiple destination areas. With construction-based expansion in passenger capacity by way of our soon to be completed new terminal, there is great scope to grow in numerous directions. Turkey is a very large market yet untapped at Aarhus, but also the development of hub-feeder service into several of Europe’s largest airline and alliance networks is a sitting opportunity.

Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris, Brussels, Madrid, Zurich, Vienna and Lisbon are among the most asked-for major hubs among the companies and 1.38 million Greater Aarhus residents, while Istanbul and Nordic hubs at Helsinki toward the Far East and Reykjavik [in Iceland] toward the US, all demonstrate very strong indirect traffic indicators, but are yet to be connected up. It’s a truly exciting proposition in terms of the most identifiable statistical market opportunities and those that are fully untapped to-date.

Can you tell us more about AAR’s terminal redevelopment project?

The terminal development is in effect a new terminal located astride the old one, with a doubling in overall size and the addition of numerous international departure gates, a much larger tax-free retail area and a significantly improved passenger experience catering for all customer types–leisure and business—whether in transfer or starting their trip, providing an extremely pleasant and upscale ambience where all passengers get to benefit from lounge-like comfort, soft-seating, a ”Danish design” feel by HAY, plus food and beverage by Aarhus-based caterers Martin Ib. There is even a play centre and indoor football pitch, all wrapped-up in a very Nordic-inspired setting that provides a facility-wide feeling of calm and relaxation.

To finish things off, a brand new in-terminal hotel will complete the striking new frontal façade providing overnight guests and visitors to the region with relaxing quality accommodation just steps from check-in for early takeoffs and a new arrivals area, for late night inbound visitors. Increased car parking capacity is also being constructed, as well as an already complete new car rental plaza home to Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz, National and Sixt.

 What is AAR doing to help Denmark’s domestic market to become fully fossil-fuel-free by 2030?

Aarhus Airport is part of a sustainable fuel development and supply initiative in cooperation with Shell Denmark as well as 16 other logistical partners, into which the Innovation Fund of Denmark (IFD) has invested 30 million Danish Krones ($4.2 million), and in partnership with Energy Cluster Denmark.

The project is called and at its core are scaled hydrothermal liquification (HLT) technologies, with aims to develop adequate supply capability being innovated by a Norwegian-located plant, but with distribution and supply solutions that work right across both aviation and marine-heavy transport sectors, covering all of Denmark and including Aarhus Airport.

The project includes best-in-class partners from university research departments to pricing experts, supply chain innovators and includes investing partners from Norway, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and France, as well as from Denmark. 

A point to note is that with many of Aarhus Airport’s shortest and most frequent services operated by super fuel-efficient turboprop aircraft such as the ATR 72-600, regional flying to and from the city of Aarhus is already of strong green travel credentials. SAS is serving Copenhagen on the island of Sjælland, BRA is serving Gothenburg and onward to Stockholm, while regional carrier DAT connects Ronne on the Danish island of Bornholm with Aarhus, all making use of ATR 72 equipment.

The geography of the region means passengers frequently have to cross bodies of water separating the major cities of the Scandinavian region, and this is performed fuel-efficiently where the best performing regional turboprops are deployed. It’s a solid early step in the right direction. All our primary customer airlines have compelling, active sustainability agendas and policies that we fully support and endorse.   

 Why are you hosting Routes Europe and what is your main message to carriers?

We are not hosting this Routes event simply to showcase the legendary Danish weather . . . and we will have umbrellas on standby, just in case! However, we are welcoming Routes Europe to the region in order to introduce the richly diverse, charming, picturesque and extremely welcoming destination of Aarhus to delegates and give them a superb taste of just why Aarhus has often been labelled the happiest city in Denmark, which in turn has often been crowned the happiest country in the world.

Aarhus is known locally in Denmark as ‘Smilets by’ (pronounced “smeelets-boo”) and we can’t wait to show Routes Europe attendees exactly why. An overtly friendly place to visit, we have one of the youngest populations of Europe, combining everything a major metropolitan area would hope to offer, while neatly condensed into a very walkable city centre at the heart of our fast-developing minitropolis.

Greater Aarhus is actually home to 1.38 million people in all–the fifth largest population base in the Nordics, after Helsinki. The economy of the region accounts for over €60 billion ($63 billion) economic output and we are home to some of the largest corporations in the world, by sector of industry, as well as the largest academic footprint in Scandinavia.

It is a first-class talent pool and thus Aarhus has become fast-paced and high-growth, with a rapidly expanding population dynamic and strong net inward migration. An affluent market by nature, the region demonstrates some of the highest disposable income values and this translates into compelling travel propensity, while Aarhus is also a high-growth receiver of inbound visitors from overseas. Recently the city was named the world’s 24th most popular conferencing destination (by ICCA) and also the third most sustainable business tourism destination. 

Since 2017, when Aarhus was named the European Capital of Culture, the city and region have flourished from strength to strength. Not only by way of tourism—Aarhus is also considered a wind energy capital, a scientific and food-tech research and innovation, is home to one of the world’s largest hospitals and an entertainment capital as host of multiple major annual music festivals, the Danish national opera and Scandinavia’s largest concert hall, and is now also home to Denmark’s tallest building.