Not many new airlines introduce themselves with a language lesson and explanations of cultural symbolism. But then, Hungary’s newest carrier seems determined to set itself apart from the bargain-basement airlines that have emerged around Europe in the past decade.
Solyom Hungarian Airways positively shuns the no-frills approach, saying its operating model will be that of a “traditional network airline” with two passenger classes on short-range flights and three on long-haul. It wants to expand fast. But there are a few unanswered questions so far…
That was then. Photo: Bloomberg
Just one year ago, in the pre-dawn gloom of Friday February 3, the normally busy but orderly passenger terminals at Budapest’s Liszt Ferenc Airport were in chaos. Malév, the debt-laden Hungarian flag carrier, had canceled all flights during the night on fears that its fleet would be impounded at foreign airports in lieu of unpaid bills. The news left thousands of passengers scrambling for alternative flights and Budapest Airport, the operating company, staring at a massive hole in its revenues – given that Malév accounted for 40 per cent of all passenger traffic.
As beyondbrics reported on Wednesday, Ryanair is to cut ten of its routes into Budapest. The low-cost airline will also reduce frequencies on nine of its remaining 20 routes into the Hungarian capital from January 10, 2013, chief executive Michael O’Leary confirmed on Thursday in Budapest, blaming rising fees imposed by Budapest Airport and the Hungarian Civil Aviation Authority.
Ryanair, the bargain-basement Irish carrier, is cutting one in three of its routes to Budapest as a result of increases in landing and handling fees imposed by both Budapest Airport, the German-owned airport operator, and the state-controlled Hungarian Civil Aviation Authority, beyondbrics has learned from industry sources.
Good and bad news from Liszt Ferenc Airport.
The good: the German-owned operator has introduced an “improved” and “more efficient” parking system.
The bad: you, dear travellers, tourists and business folk, will be paying for it – unless, that is, you can scramble out of your car or taxi, collect you luggage, kiss the spouse, pay the driver and get a receipt – all in less than three minutes flat.
“Creating new jobs, developing Hungarian businesses to reach new markets, and investment promotion for foreign investors. These are the aims of Hungary. Cost efficiency, high human capital productivity and business-friendly environment. These are waiting for you in Hungary,” – so claims the Hungarian Investment and Trade Agency.
That’s not a view shared by Budapest Airport Zrt, a foreign consortium led by Hochtief of Germany, which operates Hungary’s main international airport.
The re-launch of Ryanair‘s services from Budapest has “probably” been the most successful start up ever for Ryanair, Michael O’Leary declared in the Hungarian capital on Thursday.
But the low-cost Irish carrier’s flamboyant chief executive warned that recent government moves to raise land taxes at Budapest Airport was “a very dangerous step,” likely to hamper the recovery of air transport and tourism.
If any business school wants a case study in how a government can mismanage an airport – here’s one, courtesy of Hungary.
Scenario: you are a cabinet minister; your flag carrier airline has flown its last; your sole international airport operator – run by a foreign-owned consortium – announces job cuts.
Your national tourist office sends out an alert – while budget carriers jump in to fill the gap, tourism experts warn that business-class travellers don’t like budget airlines. Conference tourism – a big money-spinner – is set for a downturn. What else?
The scene: the back end of an otherwise swish Budapest hotel.
“Excuse my Hungarian press release: we are a low-cost airline, and we use low-cost translators,” said Michael O’Leary, as he squeezed past journalists handing out Ryanair’s latest routes and flight plans from Budapest at noon on Monday. Previously there had been confusion over the airline’s agreements with Budapest airport. O’Leary left no doubts.
Yet as this chapter drew to a close in the fast-flowing story of Budapest airport post-Malev, another was opening up. A government official said on Wednesday that Hungary could face a bill for up to Ft 1tn (€3.45bn) in compensation claims from Hochtief and other investors that own the airport operating company.
Tempers frayed and positions were decorously adjusted on Wednesday after beyondbrics reported on conflicting statements regarding Ryanair’s ability to operate planned new flights out of Budapest for which it was already selling tickets.
Ryanair demanded “a corrective measure” to what it called a “biased article”. And Budapest Airport said it would do whatever it could to get Ryanair flying.
The battle to acquire airline passengers from Budapest in the wake of last week’s demise of Malev, the former flag carrier, took a strange turn on Tuesday, when the airport and low-cost airline Ryanair clashed over the availability of flight slots.
Ryanair are selling the flights to the public. Budapest airport say they haven’t agreed terms. Result: a big row.