Source: STA

Adria Airways will add a second Slovenian airport to its route map as it starts operating budget flights from Maribor to London Southend on 1 June, a part of broader plans to make Maribor its low-cost hub.

The state-owned carrier will operate three weekly flights on the route, with return fares starting at 69 euros. The tickets will go on sale on 30 March.

It is counting on attracting passengers from Ljubljana and Maribor as well as the nearby Croatian capital Zagreb and Graz, Austria, said Adria CEO Mark Anžur. The current plan is to operate the route through September, a period in which 10,000 passengers are expected, with a possible extension thereafter. Anžur said the company had plans to add additional routes from Maribor in 2016 but would not provide any details. He also rejected speculations that Maribor was added to the route map due to political pressure. Instead, he said the move was a continuation of the strategic shift towards a low-cost model. Some pundits have speculated that the move was a form of pressure on the pricing policy of Ljubljana Airport, which was acquired by Germany’s Fraport last year. Anžur rejected these claims, noting that Adria’s Ljubljana hub offers a different set of services that entail higher costs.

Aerodrom Maribor director Marko Gros said the route was essential for the region, while its long-term success depended on the cooperation of the local community and tourism industry. “I hope the tourism industry and local communities across the region see this cooperation as a long-term opportunity,” he said.

The airport has major plans for the coming years in conjunction with the majority owner, the union-owned savings bank Delavska hranilnica. At least three or four budget routes are planned in the coming years, said Sašo Ignjatovič, adviser to the board of Delavska hranilnica. Maribor Mayor Andrej Fištravec believes the route marks the start of the development of the airport as a hub, for passengers as well as cargo. Regional competitors may have a head start but they are running out of room for development, while Maribor has plenty of space, he said.

London Southend director Roger Clements noted that the route was opening a market of 20 million potential visitors to Maribor who live within a two-hour drive from the airport. He said Adria, the city of Maribor and tourism organisations should uphold the project and “make it a success.”

Several attempts have been made in the past to launch Maribor as a full-fledged passenger airport, but routes were either quickly cancelled due to poor demand or never launched despite grand announcements. The airport gets some charter traffic, but that is limited to the summer months, and limited cargo traffic.

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