Sofia Airport – one of the most dynamically developing airports in Europe

Posted: 3 December 2008 | Plamen Stanchev Dimitrov, Executive Director, Sofia Airport | No comments yet

Sofia Airport falls among the small airports according to the ACI classification, and yet it is the biggest in Bulgaria and one of the most dynamically developing airports in the region. For the last four years the passenger flow has doubled, while this year, for the first time in its 70-year history, Sofia Airport will exceed the figure of three million passengers a year.

Sofia Airport falls among the small airports according to the ACI classification, and yet it is the biggest in Bulgaria and one of the most dynamically developing airports in the region. For the last four years the passenger flow has doubled, while this year, for the first time in its 70-year history, Sofia Airport will exceed the figure of three million passengers a year.

Today Sofia Airport has a modernised infrastructure that contributes to the new image of Bulgaria’s capital city as well. The airport has two passenger terminals, which can accommodate 4.4 million passengers a year in total.
The end of August 2006 marked the commissioning of the new runway system, with a traffic capacity of 25 aircraft movements per hour at ICAO Category III A for operations in low visibility conditions.

On the eve of Bulgaria’s accession to the EU, on 1 January 2007 the newly built Terminal 2 at Sofia Airport was officially opened. Terminal 2 is a modern facility with a capacity of 2.6 million passengers a year, which ensures high standards of airport service and full convenience for passengers. Terminal 2 is preferred by the so-called traditional carriers servicing a wide range of destinations worldwide.

Viewed from above, the terminal building, which spreads over an area of 56,500 square metres, resembles an alighted metal bird. There is a passage connecting the departure and arrival halls to an underground parking garage designed for about 800 vehicles. The access to the different levels of the building is facilitated by 12 lifts and seven escalators. There are 34 check-in desks and three baggage reclaim conveyors. Seven air bridges are available to provide comfortable plane boarding.

The commercial outlets in Terminal 2, offering a variety of goods and services, cover a total area of 4000 square metres.

Terminal 1, of which the first reception building was completed in the 1940s, was fully renovated in 2000. Having preserved all the valuable features of its initial architecture, the building now provides enough space to enable the handling of 1.8 passengers a year. The unique decorative wall panels of Terminal 1 have been preserved through the years, together with the mosaic maps of Bulgaria and Europe from the early days of civil aviation in this country. After most of the airlines had started operating from the new Terminal 2, Terminal 1 hosted the low-cost carriers and tourist charter operators, which have contributed considerably to the traffic growth in recent years.

The last stage of the reconstruction and development of Sofia Airport, funded under the European ISPA programme, is currently ongoing. The large-scale landscaping design for Terminal 2 makes provision for an integrated park environment, with recreation areas and a network of alleys to a total length of approximately 2000 metres. A lake, that has appeared after the exploitation of what used to be a former quarry, constitutes the main compositional element of the park. This lake will be preserved as an ecological element with its typical vegetation. In the middle of the park complex, an amphitheatre, intended to serve many different purposes, will be constructed in an area of 590 square metres.

Sofia Airport is a partner to more than 45 airlines, while the network of direct air connections includes 65 destinations, mainly within Europe. The largest is the share of the regular international flights serviced by leading European carriers such as Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Air France, Aeroflot, CSA and others. The Bulgarian national carrier has a leading position, with a market share of 35 per cent of the total passenger flow.

Seven low-cost carriers operate to a variety of European destinations, with more than 70 weekly flights offered in the winter timetable. The client portfolio of Sofia Airport also includes a number of tourist charter operators, which in winter cater for the skiers who decide to visit the wonderful mountain resorts in Bulgaria and in summer serve the needs of the outbound tourism.

Due to its favourable geographic location, Sofia Airport has also developed as a regional distribution centre for the big consolidators of cargo and express shipments – DHL, TNT and UPS. Their planes perform 34 weekly flights to and from Sofia Airport, transporting approximately 45 per cent of the total cargo volume.

Despite the general negative tendencies in the world, provoked by the rising prices of the energy sources, turbulences in the global economy and in the aviation industry in particular, Sofia Airport continues to meet new carriers and to extend its network of direct lines.

In March 2008, the Bulgarian national carrier launched a new regular line to Valencia, thus increasing its average route frequency to the Spanish market.

In the spring and summer of 2008, Sofia Airport welcomed two new airlines from Switzerland – the national carrier Swiss International and the regional Baboo.

In July 2008 the Eastern European low-cost carrier Wizz Air deployed a second Airbus 320 aircraft at Sofia Airport and is now flying to eight destinations. The new direct lines include Brussels/Charleroi in Belgium, Girona and Valencia in Spain and Milan/Bergamo in Italy. The subsidiary company Wizz Air Bulgaria started servicing the first low-cost domestic line between Sofia and Varna.

After the successful first year of operations between London Gatwick and Sofia, this autumn the British low-cost carrier easyJet launched new routes to Madrid and Milan and from December it will be flying to Manchester, offering three weekly flights to all the new destinations.

With the entry of the winter timetable on 28 October 2008 the Irish carrier Aer Lingus also opened a scheduled line to Sofia Airport. Aer Lingus will fly twice a week directly between Dublin and Sofia.

Today Sofia Airport provides convenient connections to the big European cities and through their airports – to the whole world.

As a regular EU member, Bulgaria offers new opportunities and a favourable climate for investments and tourism. The unique tourist sites related to natural and cultural phenomena and the development of golf and congress tourism, lead to an increased interest in travelling to Bulgaria.

Due to its favourable location on the eastern border of the European market and on the cross-point of three Pan-European transport corridors, Sofia has the potential to become a transfer gateway to the vast markets of Russia and Asia.

Considerable logistics projects are now ongoing in the close proximity of Sofia Airport, and this will stimulate the future development of freight transport and business travel.

In October this year the first air technical base of Lufthansa Technik in the Balkans was opened at Sofia Airport, to provide technical service for Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 aircraft. The investments in this facility exceed EUR 20 million.

Sofia Airport performs a number of activities related to its core function of an airport operator. The provision of ground handling services is among the major activities for which the airport has the required licences, modern technical aids and qualified staff. Our customers are offered a complete package of high quality services in terms of; aircraft turnround, baggage, cargo and mail handling, fuelling and additional security related services in cases of high risk flights (when valuable and special goods are carried), safeguarding of aircraft on the apron, etc.

Specialist training is provided to the staff of Sofia Airport by its own Training Centre, which is licensed by the Bulgarian Aviation Authorities, in the training centres of civil aviation organisations such as IATA and ACI, as well as in other leading centres providing training to airport staff.

With the implementation of the Sofia Airport Reconstruction, Development and Extension Project, Sofia Airport has become a contemporary airport, which operates in compliance with all international standards in the field of aviation services. Our aim is to be able to provide the widest possible range of services and facilitation to all passengers, with Bulgarians’ inherent hospitality. In early 2008, the airport opened a call centre, which largely improved the quality of flight information provided to the public.

Self-service desks will shortly become available in the Departures Hall of Terminal 2, to allow passengers to check in for their flights via the Internet. We also intend to open tourist information desks in both terminals to assist those who come to see the capital city.

Sofia Airport is a member of ACI Europe, and the IATA Ground Handling Council, and has its representation in their task groups. It is also an active partner of the Council of Tourism of Sofia City and Sofia Municipality, in a joint effort to make the Bulgarian capital an attractive tourist destination. In the spring of 2007, Sofia Airport hosted the Second Regional Route Development Forum – Regional Routes Europe, which was attended by approximately 400 delegates representing European airlines and airports.

The major challenges we are faced with concern the rapid exhaustion of the airport’s available infrastructural capacity and Bulgaria’s forthcoming accession to the Schengen Agreement (in 2011), thus demanding new operational concepts. Any taking of long-term decisions in the current climate is a difficult task, requiring all the professionalism of the management team of Sofia Airport.

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