Poland’s airports make strides

posted on 5th June 2023
Poland’s airports make strides

There are big changes ahead for Poland’s airport scene, with the prospect of a new greenfield hub for capital Warsaw and strong growth among regional airports too. Mark Pilling reports

It was all smiles for the Lodz Airport team in mid-May. The tiny airport, which serves what its mayor Hanna Zdanowska described as “one of the last undiscovered cities in Europe”, welcomed the continent’s airlines and airports as the host of Routes Europe 2023.
“It is a dream come true,” said Anna Midera, Chief Executive of Lodz Airport, describing the culmination of its six-year quest to put Lodz on the map. The city, which prospered during the 19th Century with a burgeoning textile industry, has a population of 600,000, currently bolstered by 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, and is located 140km west of capital Warsaw in the centre of Poland.
With a catchment of 60 million people within a two-hour driving distance, Lodz has the potential to grow rapidly from its humble beginnings, capitalising on soaring traffic demand as Poland’s economy rebounds strongly post-pandemic. In 2019, the airport handled 240,000 passengers; 400,000 are expected this year, said Midera.
The airport is served by two scheduled low-cost carriers – Ryanair and Wizz Air – to a handful of points, while leisure carriers Enter Air and European Air Charter operate summer flights to Mediterranean beach destinations.
“Our hope is that we will gain more destinations from Ryanair and Wizz Air this year, while we are also discussing links to Frankfurt and Munich with the Lufthansa Group,” Midera said.

Poland’s new hub
As Lodz seeks a place in Poland’s airport rankings, a major issue for all aviation players in the country is the future of Warsaw Chopin Airport, and the potential development of a replacement gateway for the capital.
Warsaw Chopin is located within the city boundaries and is already “quite full,” Pawel Kranc, Management Bureau Director of Polish Airports (PPL) told ARGS. In 2019, Chopin achieved its peak traffic level with 18.8 million passengers. PPL’s expectation is that Chopin will handle 18 million in 2023. The airport has a capacity of up to 22 million passengers. It also has a capacity of approximately 600,000 aircraft movements, with a level of about 570,000 reached today, Kranc said.
Although discussions about a new airport to replace Chopin started in the 2000s, work on the Solidarity Transport Hub or Central Communication Port (Centrainy Port Komunikacyjny, CPK, in Polish) is gathering pace. CPK is a greenfield airport located 40km southwest of Warsaw, combined with a multimodal rail and road hub complex, planned to serve 40 million plus passengers in the first phase.
According to Kranc, CPK would open in 2028/29. The plan is for PPL, which owns and operates Chopin and has stakes in 14 of Poland’s regional airports, to become part of the CPK group by year-end, providing operational support. “The plan is for all traffic from Chopin to move to CPK and that Chopin will close,” he confirmed.
Until CPK opens, PPL will seek to divert as many newcomers as possible to Warsaw-Radom Airport to relieve the pressure on Chopin. Radom, rebuilt at a cost of 800 million Zlotys (US $190 million), was re-opened at the end of April by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Radom is located 110km south of Warsaw and will serve as a supplementary airport to Chopin with an initial capacity of 1 million passengers. “The aim is to keep Chopin for network carriers,” said Kranc, with low-cost and leisure players encouraged to use Radom. “We are promoting Radom as an alternative,” he noted.
Polish flag carrier LOT has supported Radom’s opening with turboprop routes to Paris, Rome, Preveza (Greece), Tirana (Albania) and Varna (Bulgaria), and there are also charter services.
Warsaw has another airport, Modlin, which was opened in June 2012 as a supplement to Chopin. Located 40km north of Warsaw, Modlin was conceived as an international airport for LCCs and charter carriers, and is dominated by Ryanair, which operates to over 40 destinations from this airport.
Until, or if, CPK becomes a reality – and it would be Europe’s first major greenfield hub since the opening of iGA Istanbul in Turkey in 2019 – Poland’s capital will have a juggling act to accommodate the country’s fast pace of traffic growth. “It is a challenge, but a good one,” said PPL’s Kranc.
The ambitious CPK project poses a challenge to regional airports, such as Lodz, but the growing market means there will be room for all, Midera explained. “Our focus is on low-cost carriers because that is where we see the biggest demand,” she said. “Our view is that it would be too costly for LCCs to move to the new airport.”

LOT supports CPK
From LOT’s perspective, the arrival of CPK is critical to the growth aspirations of the country’s flag carrier, and it is watching the project with interest. “Of course, the hub airline needs a proper funnel; Solidarity Hub [CPK] could really be the unique selling point for LOT and we absolutely support this,” Michal Fijol, Chief Commercial Officer of LOT told Routes delegates. “We would like to have it as soon as possible but we need to be realistic as well.”
LOT has recovered well from Covid, handling 8 million passengers in 2022, operating to 100 destinations with scheduled service, turning a profit last year and growing to a fleet of 80 aircraft, explained Fijol. It has seen steady demand since the start of 2023 and is forecasting over 10 million passengers this year.
“Our progress is nothing spectacular, but it is very effective,” added Fijol.
LOT has in fact grown to become the number one player in its home market. With low unemployment in Poland and a growing middle class, central Europe’s largest economy has the fundamentals in place to support LOT’s continued growth. Further aircraft orders are in the pipeline, said Fijol.

Regional growth
Poland’s resurgence is also bringing strong traffic growth to the country’s regional airports. Katowice Airport serves the southern region of Silesia and will handle over 5 million passengers this year, for instance.
The airport is the third largest in the country and counts Ryanair and Wizz Air as home base carriers. Scheduled carriers have 51 routes and transport about three million passengers annually, while charter carriers fly on 63 routes and carry two million a year.
The airport is targeting connections to hub airports like Paris and Amsterdam and is seeking links to French cities where it has a market gap, said Anna Filip-Esposito, Senior Airline Relations Specialist at Katowice Airport.
Elsewhere, Gdansk Airport on the Baltic coast of northern Poland is a similar size to Katowice, with 5.5 million passengers predicted to pass through this year. It too counts Ryanair and Wizz Air as two of its main carriers.