Ryanair call for boarding in Plovdiv

Despite flying "in bulk" to more than 150 destinations throughout Europe, low-cost airline Ryanair is very picky in choosing which airports it uses. Among the list of conditions that must be met, the most important is that the use of the airport must come cheaply.This is one of the main reasons why the largest no-frills airline in the world is yet to launch flights to Bulgaria.

In 2009, the Bulgarian Government completed work on a large passenger terminal in the country’s second-largest city, investing more than 40 million leva in the construction, which for now stands empty.

Until April, the only regular arrivals to Plovdiv were by Russian airline S7 out of Siberia, which will resume flights in September.

To draw the interest of big-name players like Ryanair, the Cabinet halved the fees for Plovdiv Airport starting May 1 until May 1 2012. The airport fee is thus half that charged by Sofia Airport and and the passenger processing fee is three times lower.

There is still no contract with the Irish low-cost carrier, but people familiar with the situation say that there is an unspoken competition to win Ryanair’s business. On May 26, the airline’s officials met representatives of all civilian airports in Bulgaria and a technical review of the Plovdiv Airport is said to have been scheduled.

Ryanair has the reputation of unscrupulously pursuing its agenda in all negotiations with airports, with the end goal being lower costs. It is no wonder that its chief executive Michael O’Leary is one of the least liked in the industry.

In the past, the airline has employed such tactics as pitting nearby airports against each other for its business and arm-twisting airports into agreeing to its terms. In April 2006, Ryanair surprised the management of Cardiff Airport by announcing an end to flights to Dublin. More recently, the airline said it would cease operations in Budapest and Prague starting with October 2010 because of the high fees.

This constant drive to minimise airport and ground personnel costs is the main reason for Ryanair’s ability to offer cheaper prices to its customers. As an example, by booking two months in advance, flying from London to Madrid would cost 35 euro with Ryanair, compared to about 150 euro using British Airways or Iberia.

The service offered for the lower price is also different – Ryanair passengers end up paying for extras like food, seat preference and luggage, as do customers of other low-cost airlines like easyJet and Wizz Air.

It is still unclear what destinations Ryanair would pick in Bulgaria and where those flights would be headed. But according to an Economy Ministry source, the expectation is that Plovdiv would be linked to five destinations and flights could be launched as early as September.


by Sofia echo & "Capital" weekly 22

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