Brač Airport Director Tonči Peović: Air Traffic Recovery will Depend on Dynamics of Vaccination

Daniela Rogulj

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HRTurizam reports that airlines from all over the world are announcing the return of seasonal flights to Croatian airports. Thankfully, as well, after Croatia experienced a devastating loss last year. In 2020, slightly more than 2 million passengers passed through Croatia’s seven airports, while a year before, there were almost 11 and a half million.

“At the global level, there has been a decline in passenger traffic of 64%, in Europe, this percentage is 70%, and in Croatia, it rises to 78%. Large countries such as Russia or China, which due to their size have stronger domestic traffic, have not had such a decline, mostly because they recorded an increase in the segment of domestic passengers,” explains Tonči Peović, President of the Air Transport Association at the Croatian Chamber of Commerce and the director of Brač Airport. He adds that one of the reasons for such results is the lack of harmonization and agreement at the international level.

Namely, after the attack on New York in 2001, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the United Nations agreed in the shortest possible time on counter-terrorism, which airlines and world governments began to implement soon after. Such cooperation was lacking during the coronavirus pandemic. The difference in applying epidemiological measures from country to country has negatively affected and still affects air transport.

“When the epidemiological measures subside, and when air traffic is re-established to a greater extent, I expect that the biggest downtime will occur in intercontinental flights and in business class. In intercontinental flights, the delay could be due to passengers’ fear of coronavirus outbreaks, which makes it difficult to get back to your destination, and in business class, because companies around the world have started using all the benefits of online remote meeting tools while there are travel restrictions, so I believe that business people will not fly like they used to,” emphasizes Peović.

Croatian airports are hoping for some traffic recovery in 2021. Optimism is mostly based on the announcements of airlines, which will operate seasonal flights to and from Croatia. Namely, in 2019, a significant increase in passenger traffic at airports was achieved in April, and similar results were recorded in previous years.

“The first lockdown in Croatia, in April last year, reduced air traffic in Croatia to almost zero. This year, we can hardly expect an “awakening” in early April, at Easter time. In the current situation, we may be able to expect a slight recovery in early May, but this will depend on the dynamics of the split. The lack of vaccines is already playing a big role, so everything will probably continue. Recovery also depends on the situation in the countries from which most of our tourists come, and in most of them, there is a lockdown. All previous optimistic announcements are based on good wishes, but we have to talk about the facts,” said Peović.

Airlines worldwide are eagerly awaiting the recovery of air traffic and have been actively involved in solving the problem. The introduction of so-called “Covid passports,” i.e., passports for safe travel, would greatly facilitate business. However, such passports also open up a handful of new questions. One of the largest is the type of vaccine. Namely, the vaccine given in some countries is not accepted in others. Therefore, people who have received a vaccine will not be able to travel to destinations where the same vaccine is not accepted.

Therefore, the International Air Transport Association has recently launched a travel pass initiative, which allows the integration of multiple passports or applications and determines which tests for COVID-19 and vaccines are allowed.

“The desire is to introduce standard software, for example for smartphones, with which it will be immediately visible whether passengers have the necessary documents and permits for the destination they are traveling to. Airlines worldwide can’t wait to start flying because even though their current costs are minimal, they want to make a profit, even a minimal one. But the question is how many airlines will survive after the measures are relaxed because, with the start of flights, the costs become much higher. If there is no interest of people in travel and the planes are not filled, I believe that the companies will make big losses, some of which will not recover,” says Peović.

And what are the predictions for Brač Airport, which last year achieved only 17% of the traffic from 2019? Well, according to the airline’s announcements, the year could be quite successful. Namely, Brač Airport expects to maintain two Croatia Airlines’ flights between Zagreb and Brač this year, which operates twice a week during the summer flight schedule, on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

On its long-term charter line Graz – Brač, Croatia Airlines plans to resume traffic from mid-May to early October. German Sundair plans charter flights from Dusseldorf on Saturdays and from Berlin on Sundays from the beginning of May to the end of October, and ticket sales have already started. Charter flights from Bern and Graz will be operated by Great Dane Airlines in the off-season, from September to October.

“Negotiations are currently underway with Luxair, which connected Brač with Luxembourg two years ago, so I hope that Luxair will decide on reintroducing the line this summer. There is also LOT, the largest Polish airline with which we are in negotiations. We have sent them all the requested documents, and we are waiting for a response.”

While the recovery of air traffic is expected, Brač Airport is not sitting idly by but is working to improve conditions. Namely, the airport upgrade project is in progress, where they are extending and widening the runway and reconstructing the passenger terminal. A construction permit for the passenger terminal and a location permit for the runway is pending. After that, the passenger terminal reconstruction project will apply for the EU energy efficiency project, as part of the initiative that arose in response to the impact of COVID-19. 

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