How many passengers did Vilnius Airport handle in 2015 and how did this compare to 2014?
Passenger numbers grew by 13.4% last year to reach a record 3.3 million. It was the first time in the 100-year history of Vilnius Airport that we handled more than three million passengers in a calendar year.
What are the main drivers behind current traffic trends and what are your projections for 2016?
The number of people using the airport has been steadily rising since 2009, actually growing by 2.5 times in six years. Indeed, air travel has never been so popular in Lithuania and the increased mobility of the country’s population has boosted both tourism and business traffic. Lithuania is also becoming better known in the international arena and this has led to an increase in visitors from abroad. The addition of more new carriers and destinations this year will further expand the opportunities for travellers, so we expect this growth to continue for the foreseeable future.
What are the biggest opportunities/challenges you face today?
Striving to provide high quality services at the same time as accommodating continuously rising passenger numbers in facilities that we are close to outgrowing, is the biggest challenge. The design capacity of Vilnius Airport is 3.5 million and we expect to handle this in 2016. So, we have lots of work to do to find ways of prolonging the life of our existing infrastructure.
Arguably, our biggest challenge is coming up in the summer of 2017 when we are due to carry out rehabilitation and reconstruction work on the airport’s runway. This will mean that Vilnius is unable to handle any aircraft movements between July 14 and August 18, when the airlines will have to temporarily switch their operations to our other airports at Kaunas or Palanga.
It is no secret that all our airports, but in particular Vilnius because it is operating close to capacity, are in need of investment to enhance their facilities to allow them to grow and fulfil their respective potential. For this reason we are actively looking to attract private investors to bid for the concession to operate Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga airports.
We are carefully preparing the tender now with the priority being the identification of competent partners. This is a big challenge.
Did the airport make money a profit in your last financial year and, if possible, can you tell our readers more about your main sources of income today?
We don‘t have audited numbers from 2015 yet, but looking at the EBITDA margin, it is 15% bigger than in 2014. Aero revenues account for approximately 60% of the income of Lithuanian Airports [Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga] and non-aeronautical for around 40%. One of the main sources of non-aeronautical revenues is rental.
Do you think Europe’s hub airports face the same challenges?
We may not be a big hub airport but we serve a big region in Eastern Europe and believe that Vilnius is the chosen gateway of not only Lithuanians but people from certain parts of Poland, Belarus and Latvia as well. In my opinion, all airports face similar challenges. We all want good route networks that allow passengers to get to their destinations as quickly and conveniently as possible.
What are you doing to boost non-aeronautical revenues and is this task more difficult for you because of your size?
Non-aeronautical activities and their development are really important for us. Last year we asked our passengers about services in the airport and their expressed wishes were for new services, shopping and dining locations. Now we have quite a diversity of these locations but we are still planning to introduce more to meet our passengers’ expectations.
Do you think that local and national governments appreciate the importance of aviation and are supportive of it?
Yes, absolutely, in Lithuania. The government, for example, is very supportive of route development at Vilnius Airport and has introduced a number of incentives to encourage new air services. Route development is vitally important for the local and national economy.
Why is it important that small, regional airports survive and prosper across the world?
All airports have a role to play and the appeal of many regional airports is that they offer a good opportunity for airlines to grow as they have the slot capacity rarely available at the bigger airports.
What impact have the low-cost carriers had on your airport?
All carriers are important to us. But in 2015, the low-cost carriers served 48% of all passengers at Vilnius Airport. This number increased by 6% over the last year.
How do you plan developing your airport over the next five to ten years?
Our future development plans include proposals for the construction of a brand new terminal and the reconstruction of the existing one, expanding the short and long-term car parks, and the addition of a new taxiway. We have also set ourselves quite high goals for customer service as we take the customer experience very seriously, too.
So, in five to ten years time, I see Vilnius Airport as being a fast growing, efficient and friendly airport.