Prague sets out its stall in the battle for central European airport pre-eminence in 2018

Prague Vaclav Havel Airport reports that passenger figures and growth exceeded the pan-European average in 2017. Traffic expanded by 18.4% over the first 11 months of 2017, while the pan-European average was 8.7%. In the opinion of the airport’s Chairman, Václav Řehoř, “In general, the growth is owed to greater readiness of people to spend more money on their travels on one hand and to the growing availability of air travel on the other”.  Frequencies were increased, 16 new routes were added at the airport in 2017 and there were two instances of new connections launched to existing destinations, but to different airports (London/City and London/Southend).

Both factors, the demand and the supply, are influenced by the economy, which is in good shape. As of 4Q2017 GDP growth was 2.4%, unemployment at 3.3% was the lowest in the European Union, and both government and personal debt is low.

We now know that Václav Havel Airport handled a total of 15,415,001 passengers in the full year 2017, which represents 17.9% growth over 2016. The airport thus confirmed its status of one of the fastest growing airports in the category of European airports handling 10-25 million passengers a year.

A total of 69 regular carriers operated in 2017, connecting it to 163 destinations. Apart from Europe a notable surge in passenger journeys took to place to North African beach resorts.

This renaissance has come about after a strange decade for flag carrier CSA Czech Airlines, the largest at the airport, during which it dropped important commercial cities from its network such as London Heathrow and Manchester flights (which it served daily and has never reinstated). Then, behaving more in the way of a LCC than a full-service SkyTeam alliance member, it later launched infrequent routes to secondary airports such as Cork, Ibiza and Liverpool, two of which were dropped before they even started.

CHART – While CSA Czech Airlines is the largest, Prague is served by a mix of airline operators and has particularly been a popular destination for LCCs supporting city break demandSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG 

The two main airports it is up against in central Europe, certainly as a ‘hub’, are Vienna and Budapest although it must be remembered that Prague is well to the west of Vienna and competes equally with some German airports.

TABLE – This is how the three compare against a range of metricsSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation, OAG and airport reports

Prague is the second busiest of the three, 10 million passengers adrift of Vienna. However, the passenger growth rate in 2017 was getting on for four times that of the Austrian capital. Budapest’s growth rate lags that of Prague only a little but it is over one million annual passengers shy of Prague’s passenger total.

In terms of the other economic measures, Vienna is again well in the lead, and the battle for the ‘second most significant’ airport regionally is between Prague and Budapest, with Prague narrowly leading in all four seat and cargo measures. But it is behind both the other two airports when measured by destinations served.

Prague Airport has much to be pleased about with these figures but the competition with these neighbouring airports is tough and certainly will remain so.