Interview: Vienna Targets Asia Recovery
Speaking at Routes World 2022, Vienna Airport CEO Julian Jäger discusses how the Austrian airport’s network has evolved and the outlook for 2023.
How far along is the recovery at Vienna?
I think overall the recovery is progressing very well. We will have roughly 75% of pre-pandemic passenger numbers during 2022—that’s compared to a record year in 2019 with more than 30 million passengers. This year, we will have more than 23 million passengers so overall we're going in the right direction.
Which markets are performing well?
Southern Europe and leisure traffic has recovered very strongly, particularly places like Greece, Spain, Italy and Turkey. What has hit us has been Russia’s invasion Ukraine—this was an important market for us, representing about 5% of our passengers. But on the transatlantic side, the US is doing extremely well. In North America we are back to roughly where we were pre-COVID—we probably have a few frequencies less, but overall, we are very happy.
And conversely, which markets are you still seeking to recover?
Asia is obviously more difficult. We have lost Thai Airways International, Air India, China Southern and Hainan Airlines—they are yet to return. I’m hopeful we’ll get ANA back next year. There’s still some work to do on our Asia network but it’s encouraging to see restrictions change in Japan and Taiwan. Germany, Austria and Switzerland are also more difficult—and we’re about 30% behind 2019. Business traffic was a big driver for some of these routes, but there has perhaps been a shift to online meetings or people choosing to take the car or train.
Given the current economic pressures, what is the outlook for the northern winter 2022/23 season? Are airlines scaling back their plans?
I think for winter, capacity has been significantly reduced. There's the demand in terms of leisure traffic, and that is stronger than business traffic. Airlines are still happy with November and December, but January and February are more of a question mark. Overall, in terms of capacity, I'm quite happy with even the outlook for next summer. But how demand will develop is a big unknown for next year.
After Air Berlin and NIKI’s exit from the market in late 2017, there was a surge in LCC capacity at Vienna. Has it stabilized now?
I think it has stabilized. Roughly 50% of our traffic is Austrian Airlines, 20% Ryanair and 6% is Wizz Air. Overall, I would say the LCC share is something close to 30% and we feel that things have settled down. I'm very happy with the with the mix and I think this was the reason why our recovery was stronger than many German airports. We have the mix of our network carrier Austrian Airlines on one hand, and on the other hand we have probably the most aggressive LCCs in Europe. What we’re seeing now is those LCCs are further growing their networks in new, non-competing markets. For example, Wizz has started flying from Vienna to Saudi Arabia for the first time. It seems that every airline has found their place.
How is Vienna performing financially?
We will have a net profit of roughly €100 million or higher this year. We’ve had a good summer operationally, without many of the problems seen at airports elsewhere in Europe in terms of waiting times, security, and ground handling. What obviously helped us in that regard was the government support, which allowed us to retain our staff.
There was a takeover bid for Vienna Airport earlier this year. What is making the airport an attractive investment opportunity?
I think we've got a great catchment area—we have Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic very close by and part of that catchment, so there's a lot of additional potential. We can grow if we want to—we have the approval for third runway, and we’ll be expanding our terminal building next year with significant increase in retail and F&B space. There’s room to improve on our non-aeronautical performance but operationally we are very stable and very strong.