Split Airport’s Numbers Closer and Closer to Those of Zagreb

Lauren Simmonds

As Novac/Boris Oresic writes on the 22nd of September, 2019, the number of aircraft landing at Croatian airports and the number of passengers being transported around has never been higher in Croatia’s entire history. It was the first time in July that one airport in Croatia had more than 700,000 passengers in one month – Split Airport, which opened a new passenger terminal just that month.

Its director, Lukša Novak, who has been in his position since the early 1990s, reveals that 2.5 million passengers arrived at Split Airport during the first eight months of 2019, with an expected amount of around 3.3 million by the end of the year, just short of Zagreb Airport, which should conclude 2019 with about 3.4 million passengers.

Dubrovnik comes in third place with 2.9 million passengers, followed by Pula and Zadar with 800,000 passengers each. According to Novak’s estimate, all Croatian airports should serve 11.2 million passengers this year, which is six percent more than last year, when there were 10.6 million passengers.

The increase in traffic at airports along the Croatian coast, and especially at Split Airport, is far higher this year than the total increase in the number of tourists. What are the reasons?

”The time of double-digit growth we have had over the last few years is behind us, but the increase of 600,000 passengers compared to last year is very large. In 2018, tourism grew by seven percent and air traffic by 10 percent. Air traffic is always growing more than tourism is, because it depends not only on tourism but also on other economic activities. And our people are also travelling more and more as tourists and go to other countries, especially young people who book flights in advance to get cheaper tickets. Hopefully there will be more luck and that the economic situation in Croatia will get better and that our citizens will get to travel even more.”

Did you expect so much growth this year and does that mean that there may be more passengers and planes in the coming years?

”We planned to reach 3.3 million passengers this year. In terms of the number of passengers, we’re getting closer to Zagreb Airport and will probably even out next year. We’re not burdened with numbers. It’s important for us that the tourist season lasts longer and we are absolutely satisfied with the number of passengers from April to October. Both March and November are getting better, and we aim to have about 100,000 travellers in the winter months.”

Does this mean that Split Airport is becoming less seasonal?

”This May, we had the traffic we once had at the very height of the tourist season. This year’s April was 26 percent better than last year. But from November to March, we still have relatively little traffic. The big question is how to increase traffic in the winter.”

If it is true that the capacity of the new Split Airport is 3.5 million passengers a year, that figure could be exceeded as early as next year. Do you have the opportunity to expand further?

”With good organisation, this terminal will be able to serve up to five million passengers a year. The aircraft stand has a slightly lower capacity, and this will be our focus in the coming years as we expect a further increase in traffic of four to five percent annually. At the old terminal, we accepted three million passengers with 14,000 square metres, and now we have 50,000 square metres. Dubrovnik Airport is about the same size, and Zagreb is slightly larger, with about 60,000 square metres.”

Since you opened a new terminal in the middle of the summer, have you managed to adapt to it working in these new conditions?

”We’re pretty pleased with how it all went. The rules of the profession say that it takes one whole summer and winter season to fully come together properly. Passenger reactions are good because the terminal is simple and easy to read, the processes are fast and people can easily cope.”

In your opinion, will air traffic in Croatia continue to be based at three major airports in the coming years – Split, Zagreb and Dubrovnik – or will other smaller airports grow more and more?

”Zadar and Pula will reach one million passengers in the coming years. This means that we’ll have as many as five airports with more than one million passengers a year, which is satisfactory as Croatia has a large number of airports in spite of its size and population.

What happens to the national airline (Croatia Airlines) is very important to us now, as it maintains year-round connections both domestically and with important hubs in Europe. There are smaller and smaller differences between low cost and traditional carriers. For example, low cost companies are increasingly flying to primary airports, including Split Airport, from which Ryanair now pays the same price as all other companies. The only criterion by which we can give a carrier a discount is – the higher the number of passengers, the better the price.”

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