In less than a decade, Fraport Twin Star Airport Management (FTSAM) has transformed two of Bulgaria’s busiest airports, with 2013 marking the operator’s biggest achievements in the country to date.
A joint venture between German airport operator Fraport and 40% partner Bulgarian Aviation Group Airport Services, FTSAM won the 35-year concession agreement for Burgas and Varna airports in 2006, and soon developed the facilities’ master plans – a feat anticipated for several years.
“Fraport started analysing Varna and Burgas ten years ago when the Bulgarian government first started going into concession agreements,” FTSAM’s CEO, Aletta von Massenbach, told Airport World.
Educated as a lawyer with a postgraduate degree in project management, von Massenbach – a 17-year veteran of Fraport – joined FTSAM in October 2012 and is the only female CEO in the Fraport portfolio.
She says: “Bulgaria has huge potential and the Black Sea coast is beautiful. The country has a good economic framework and we found that the airports fit our criteria. With a stable environment and good partners, it made sense.”
The company wasted no time moving forward with its plans and, in addition to updating the existing infrastructure at both airports, began construction on new passenger terminals at Varna and Burgas in December 2011.
Taking up the challenge
Designed by Halcrow Group, Pascall+Watson and their Bulgarian partners SavantElbul, the terminals are FTSAM’s first major steps in turning the airports into world-class facilities.
Starting work in December 2011, a consortium formed between TechnoimportExport and IçtaşHoldings built the infrastructure.
Varna Airport’s terminal opened its doors to the travelling public on August 27. At 20,000sqm, it’s three times larger than its predecessor and features upgraded technology to enhance the passenger experience.
“The processes are faster and there is a completely different commercial offer,” says von Massenbach. “One of the best parts of our new systems is that passengers don’t notice them; they just enjoy the good flow through the airport.”
With 25 check-in desks; three boarding card checkpoints; eight security lanes and seven gates, the terminal can cater for 2.3mppa.
The arrivals area – split into Schengen and non-Schengen – has 12 passport control points, in addition to one 90m and two 60m baggage carousels.
The airport’s concessions offering has also increased dramatically; passengers can now enjoy a 770sqm shopping area, run by Nuance BG AD, and a 1,200sqm food and beverage space, including a 554sqm external courtyard.
Able to handle 3.3mppa, Burgas Airport’s slightly larger facility, due to open around the end of October, has an 800sqm shopping area and 1,220sqm for F&B – again, with a 554sqm courtyard.
It offers 31 check-in desks; three boarding card checkpoints; nine security lanes, and eight gates.
The arrivals area – also split into Schengen/non-Schengen zones – has 12 immigration points; one 90m and three 60m baggage carousels.
In addition to their much larger sizes, both terminals can be easily expanded and offer flexible use for seasonal traffic needs.
“During the winter season, parts of both terminals can be closed to save energy,” states von Massenbach, adding that the airports’ overall energy consumption levels have reduced as a result of sustainable design.
In airport-wide efforts to optimise consumption, FTSAM has also installed intelligent building management systems while various ancillary facilities, such as the heat plants, have been renovated. The company is part of Fraport’s wider environmental management system and is certified by the European Eco-Management and Audit Scheme.
While the opening of Burgas’ terminal depends on various governmental and administrative procedures, von Massenbach told Airport World that FTSAM was fully prepared for operations: “Varna acted as a benchmark for Burgas, so it has not been a new project for us. We’re hoping for a smooth process when it opens.”
The two airports are around 120km apart, making the parallel construction projects challenging.
Explaining why Burgas Airport’s terminal will become operational months after its sister facility, von Massenbach notes: “We couldn’t do both openings at the same time with the diligence we wanted. Our aim was to finalise Varna first and then move on to Burgas.”
Despite original plans suggesting the terminals would open concurrently, she insisted: “We don’t view October as a delay to bring the project over the finish line.
“We didn’t want to inaugurate terminals at both of the twin Black Sea airports during the middle of the high season. Fraport is a cautious company and two terminals opening at the same time was a challenging process.
“For example, during the runway reconstruction work last year at VAR, the airport was closed with air traffic diverted to BOJ instead. We can use the airports in tandem.”
The opening of the new terminals forms part of FTSAM’s partnership with the Bulgarian tourism board to boost visitor numbers to the country.
In recent years, the airports have seen a rise in passengers from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, while traffic from the UK and Germany has remained “strong but stable”.
“We are seeing a tendency in travellers from Scandinavia as well,” adds von Massenbach. “Now, it’s just a case of finding the right marketing strategy to encourage this growth.”
She continues: “In terms of business, we are looking at how we can optimise our commercial revenues and we expect a boost with these inaugurations.”
The company is concentrating on building its commercial revenues for the time being but plans for the coming years are already in place.
Varna and Burgas’ master plans up to 2025 prioritise airside development, explained von Massenbach. “The landside is in shape now at both airports. We’ve already spent €165 million in seven years.
“The runway at Varna was refurbished in 2012 and we now want to work on the apron and taxiways at both airports, starting from 2016.
“We also need to upgrade regular parts of the infrastructure on an ongoing basis, such as the fire rescue facilities,” she says.
For Fraport as a whole, 2013 will also see the opening of St Petersburg’s new terminal. “There is lots happening across the company but we really are very excited about Bulgaria,” concludes von Massenbach.