With a host of newly opened facilities, others on the way and a new rail link set to open in early 2012, these are exciting times for Warsaw Chopin Airport, writes Joe Bates.
Few airports have been as active from a marketing and communication standpoint this year than Warsaw Chopin, with Poland’s capital city gateway positively pumping out the good news stories.
It almost goes without saying that traffic is on the rise, with passenger throughput rising by 8.3% to 7.25 million during the first nine months of the year.
Indeed, airport director, Michał Marzec expects passenger traffic for the calendar year to be around 7% up on 2010 and is confident that cargo volumes will exceed the record 40,800 tonnes handled at Warsaw Chopin last year.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg, because so far this year Chopin has made the headlines for becoming one of the most successful airports in the world for using social media (See Airport World’s April/May 2011 issue).
In terms of new infrastructure, Chopin has opened new central and south piers to give it a main 148,000sqm passenger complex (Terminal A; reopened Runway 1 after a 14-month renovation project; and started construction work on a second hotel.
It has also unveiled plans for Chopin Airport City; issued a tender for a new the fuel farm; and announced the 2012 introduction of slot co-ordination to ensure the “optimum” use of its airfield capacity during the day and reduce the number of night flights.
Marzec attributes the rising passenger and cargo demand to Poland’s growing economy, which has led forecasters to predict annual traffic growth for Chopin for at least the next 10 to 15 years.
More specifically, Marzec has no qualms in stating that the catalyst for traffic growth in Warsaw has come from Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004; the subsequent Open Skies agreements that followed, and the introduction of low-cost carriers.
He says that all three contributed toward huge 25% to 30% per annum increases in passenger numbers four to five years ago, before levelling out and peaking in terms of throughput in 2008, when 9.46 million passengers passed through Chopin.
“These were incredible times and changed the face of aviation in Poland forever,” says Marzec.
“Traffic is still on the rise today, but not at the same levels as before.
We are not predicting growth of 8% for the next ten years, but we certainly anticipate annual growth of around 4% to 5%, which is a healthy position to be in.”
New gateway for Warsaw
Three low-cost carriers (LCCs) currently serve Chopin – Norwegian, Vueling, and Wizz Air – the latter, being the second biggest operator at the airport after national flag carrier, LOT Polish Airlines.
The list doesn’t include Ryanair, a growing force in the Polish market, whose desire for rock bottom prices would make it an odd fit for Chopin, where Marzec openly admits that his airport is more focused on the business traveller and higher-revenue earning national airlines than the LCC market.
Until now, there also hasn’t been an alternative to Chopin in the Warsaw region, but all that is about to change with the 2012 opening of Modlin airport on the outskirts of Poland’s capital city.
Located 40 kilometres north of Warsaw, the former military base is currently being transformed into a commercial gateway, and Chopin owner, Polish Airports State Enterprise (PPL), is one of the three key shareholders funding the revamp.
PPL’s pivotal role in the project means that when the new €100 million airport opens for business next year, Marzec not only expects the LCCs to switch gateways, he is banking on it.
“Far from damaging Chopin, the opening of Modlin Airport will breathe new life into the airport by freeing up capacity currently taken by the low-cost carriers,” he states.
“Chopin does not have a limitless capacity, so it therefore makes sense to switch the LCCs to an airport more suited to their no-frills business model. The existence of the former military base at Modlin, which we are currently transforming into a commercial airport, has given us that opportunity.”
PPL’s partners in the project are the local Modlin authorities and a government agency set up to manage or act as a landlord to former military facilities.
Modlin Airport will initially have the capacity to handle up to 1.5mppa, but with future expansion could accommodate around 5mppa, which would provide a significant capacity boost for Chopin.
Warsaw Chopin’s LCCs currently handle around 12% of the total traffic throughput at Chopin, where LOT remains dominant, accounting for 50% of the 8.71 million passengers handled in 2010.
Transfer traffic accounts for just 15% of annual passengers and this is something that Marzec would like to see change, though he is realistic enough to know that this won’t be easy, as Warsaw has never traditionally been a transit hub airport and faces tough competition for the role from the likes of Prague, Budapest and Kiev.
Marzec also admits that Chopin’s future is inextricably linked to the performance of LOT, which has been forced to put its route development plans on hold for the last three years while it awaits delivery of the new B787 Dreamliner.
“LOT’s strategy of developing its long-haul network and Warsaw as a transfer centre very much depends on the delivery of aircraft such as the B787, so it has been quite a frustrating time for both of us,” says Marzec.
London, Paris, Frankfurt, Antalya and Amsterdam are the busiest international routes out of Warsaw, while Gdansk and Krakow are the most popular domestic services.
Marzec says that the August 2011 opening of Chopin’s new central and south piers, and the planned upgrade to some existing facilities over the next three years, will comfortably raise the gateway’s capacity to at least 20mppa by 2015.
A two-year project to modernise “the old part of Terminal A” is due to start in 2012 as part of the airport’s €48 million second phase development programme.
Chopin’s main runway is also set to be refurbished, while the addition of new rapid taxiways are expected to raise Chopin’s airfield efficiency from 36 to 48 runway movements per hour.
Marzec refers to the terminal modernisation project as “a major rebuild”, because the section of the terminal will effectively be bulldozed and made identical in appearance, shape and architectural design to the rest of the building.
“The rebuilding work will be extensive,” notes Marzec. “We are effectively completing the construction of our modern new terminal building.”
Upon completion of the project in 2015, Warsaw Chopin will have one of the most modern terminals in the region, with a host of new IT systems, including capacity enhancing, common-use, self-service technology; mobile check-in; internet kiosks, and bag drop facilities.
New train link
Another significant event for Chopin next year will be the opening of a dedicated new rail link to Warsaw’s Central Railway Station and beyond.
Operated by metropolitan train company, Szybka Kolej Miejska, the new service will make it possible for passengers to travel the 10 kilometres between the airport and downtown Warsaw on a state-of-the-art PESA manufactured train in just 15 minutes.
Although there are no official figures, it is believed to have cost more than €50 million alone to build the two kilometres of new rail track necessary to link the airport to an existing commuter rail line at nearby Warsaw ŚródmieŚcie station.
PPL funded the construction of the new airport railway station when it upgraded the terminal in 2008, while the cost of building the actual rail link and acquiring the rolling stock was split between the state and local government, with the help of a subsidy from the EU.
The EU has also agreed to a €22.8 million subsidy toward the cost of the new rail link between Warsaw and Modlin, the site of the new gateway for the Polish capital.
“The new rail link to Chopin will make our catchment area even bigger as it will make it quick and easy for people living up to 200 and 300 kilometres away to get here,” enthuses Marzec.
In such circumstances, it should come as no surprise to hear that the airport will shortly begin a marketing campaign within Poland to promote the new train and the advantages it provides Warsaw Chopin.
Another project Marzec hopes will also be grabbing peoples’ attention in the months and years ahead, is the development of Chopin’s very own ‘airport city’.
The gateway recently contracted Ove Arup to help it formulate the next phase of its Chopin Airport City project, which is already beginning to take shape with the construction of a 5-star Renaissance Hotel that is due for completion in mid-2013.
“We potentially have 10 hectares of land that we could develop for non-aeronautical activities, so the creation of Chopin Airport City seems like the next logical step,” says Marzec.
“We are currently working with Arup to build the business model for our airport city, which we hope will be supported and endorsed by the local principalities. It is not our intention to compete with what’s on offer in Warsaw, we want to complement it, and feel that we can do this by using the synergy effect of aviation to create something unique.”
The new hotel will complement Chopin’s existing Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, which according to Marzec, is already one of the hotel chain’s most successful properties in the world.
For now, PPL remains a 100% state-owned entity, and although there are no immediate plans for this to change – especially in an election year – rumours continue to persist that Warsaw Chopin will be one of the next big European gateways to be privatised.
Marzec, understandably, refuses to be drawn on the subject, although he does note that the government is considering the public-private partnership (PPP) model for a new airport in central Poland.
The airport is to be built between Warsaw and Lódz – the nation’s third largest city, located 135km south west of the capital – and will have a price tag of €3.1 billion, according to Poland’s aviation department director Krzysztof Kapis, which would seemingly rule out the government going it alone.
Industry analysts believe that the new airport is needed, but say it would only make economic sense after 2020 when the Polish government has built high-speed rail links between Warsaw, Poznan, Lódz and Wroclaw.
As a keen football fan, Marzec says that he is eagerly looking forward to the 2012 European Football Championship, which is being jointly hosted by Poland and the Ukraine.
Indeed, PPL has been preparing for the tournament for a number of years, and Marzec is particularly proud that in June 2011 – a full 12 months ahead of the big kick off – organisers UEFA declared Chopin ready for the tournament.
In a busy day, up to 30,000 passengers typically use the airport. That figure is expected to double to 60,000 a day during the tournament, but Marzec claims that Chopin’s new facilities and IT systems ensure that it is more than well equipped to handle the surge in demand.
“I think the fans will like what they see here,” remarks Marzec. “We are ready for them and look forward to showcasing our airport to the world.”