More growth on the way at fast expanding Athens International Airport, writes Justin Burns
Athens International Airport has delivered strong passenger traffic growth over the last five to six years and this looks set to continue as its network widens.
Greece’s financial crisis in 2011 and 2012 had a huge impact on Greece’s main gateway, but since it started its revival in 2013 it has not looked back.
Ioanna Papadopoulou, Director, Communications and Marketing, Athens International Airport says since 2013, traffic has surged by 93 per cent and almost doubled.
The airport has seen five consecutive years of record growth and last year passenger number were up 11 per cent to just over 24.1 million, a new record.
“2019 seems to be the sixth record year in a row as during the first months of the year we have a nine per cent passenger traffic growth versus 2018 so it seems 2019 is going to be a rather good year unless something extraordinary happens. Aviation and tourism are volatile,” Papadopoulou says.
This year it will expand its route network further with American Airlines starting to Athens from Chicago, Oman Air will fly to Athens from Muscat, Royal Air Maroc to Athens from Casablanca and Saudia Arabian Airlines will start routes to Athens from Jeddah and Riyadh.
Other airlines are also adding frequencies and new routes, such as home carrier Aegean Airlines while Ryanair is expanding its network and Sky Express, a domestic Greece carrier is developing fast.
But what next for Athens International Airport?
“Our long-haul (LH) network is a focus and has the potential as we have certain LH connections to the east and west but there are many to get connected to Athens directly,” Papadopoulou says. “LH is important to us and we consider it is a source of growth. Niche routes are very important to us – back in 2017 we introduced niche routes and tried to untap the potential in the European continent, and Ryanair, Aegean and other carriers have started niche routes.”
Asia, particularly China are target markets for new links along with the Americas but connections from Athens are also growing to Africa. “We used to only have Alexandria and Cairo but we will soon also have Marrakech, and Casablanca so it has been gradually growing, which is important,” she says. “To the USA we have Emirates from Athens to NY, Delta in the summer and United and American to Philadelphia in the summer and Norwegian to NY JFK in the summer, and Air Canada and Air Transat to Montreal and Toronto, but also to the Far East we have Scoot from Singapore to Athens and Air China connecting to Beijing, but we want to see more,” Papadopoulou says.
Athens is the hub of Aegean which has a 44 per cent market share of flights, but Ryanair, Sky Express also have bases and now Volotea and Ellinair are fast developing their bases.
The airport has seen strong growth and Papadopoulou says at some point it will stabilise while there is a risk of external factors that could impact tourism and aviation, including Brexit. “The UK is the second market for us in terms of foreign residents and visitors and it is a source of uncertainty as we don’t know what will happen,” she says. “There are many things that are potential risk but we try to address them as much as we can.”
Athens has capacity for 26 million passengers and this figure could be reached at the end of 2019 and Papadopoulou says it is making plans. “We are working closely with IATA for capacity assessment and forecasts for the years to come and there are certain works in progress for terminal expansion in the lounge area. In 2017 we also had a satellite terminal operational on a year-round basis.”
The airport operates two parallel runways and is monitoring the situation, as if growth continues it will start other infrastructure works. “For the time being we are not slot coordinated but we don’t know how things will be in the future. At the moment we have ample capacity 24 hours a day,” she concludes.
The next few years look set to be interesting times in Athens.