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Bulgaria Air is the national flag carrier based at Sofia International Airport, the main gateway to Bulgaria, followed by Varna International Airport. Aviationhas three other main airlines – Hemus Air and LCCs EasyFLY Bulgaria and Wizz Air Bulgaria.
The Directorate General-Civil Aviation Administration is responsible for aviation policy, safety and security in Bulgaria, while the Bulgarian Air Traffic Services Authority is the navigation service provider.
Airports in Bulgaria
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The United Arab Emirates’ newest airport, Dubai World Central (DWC), opened its passenger terminal on 27-Oct-2013 and its first commercial passengers. The operator was Wizz Air, the Eastern/Central European LCC, with a flight from Budapest. Wizz Air Group (which includes Wizz Air Ukraine) also launched Bucharest, Sofia and Kiev from DWC as the winter season commenced.
According to Wizz Air CEO József Váradi, Wizz Air expects to handle 250,000 passengers on services to DWC in the first year of operations. Based on the four routes launched this week, this would imply load factors averaging 95%. Although Wizz Air’s 2012 load factor was more than 85%, this seems very ambitious for new routes, even in the hyperbolic world of low-cost airlines. More likely, Wizz Air plans to add frequencies and/or routes through the year.
Either way, it demonstrates the carrier’s confidence in taking the narrowbody LCC model further than most on routes that look to be under-penetrated. Mr Váradi is even talking of adding flights to India from DWC.
Eastern European low-cost carrier group Wizz has unveiled plans to expand its Vilnius base in Lithuania and establish its third Ukrainian base in Lviv. The announcements follow other recent expansion announcements that will see Wizz expand its bases in Bulgaria and Macedonia.
In the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, Wizz Air will expand its fleet of A320s at the airport to three aircraft. The carrier will use the additional aircraft to launch three new routes and increase frequencies on five existing routes.
Meanwhile the group’s Ukrainian subsidiary Wizz Air Ukraine plans to base one A320 at Lviv from 30-Apr-2014. The aircraft will be used to launch five new routes from Lviv, which Wizz Air Ukraine now serves with three routes. The A320 to be based at Lviv Airport will be Wizz Air Ukraine’s fifth aircraft overall.
Wizz Air is pursuing further expansion in the Eastern European market with recently announced plans to grow its Sofia base in 2013 and 2014. The expansion will see the low-cost carrier base a fourth aircraft at the Bulgarian capital and launch two new routes, as well as increase frequencies on four existing routes.
The expansion will focus mainly on Western European destinations, including a new twice weekly flight to Malmo in Sweden. But there will also be a new thrice weekly link from Sofia to Dubai’s new airport.
Wizz's expansion places further pressure on flag carrier Bulgaria Air, which currently accounts for 26% of capacity in its home market.
Bulgaria Air is strengthening its European network with the introduction of Embraer E-Jets to its fleet. Expanding its regional fleet will allow the airline to increase frequencies across its network and better match supply with demand through the use of smaller aircraft than previously.
As LCCs make inroads into its home market, the higher cost legacy carrier must look to consolidate a higher yielding market segment using frequency, but this is a complement to, not an alternative to cost reduction.
As the national carrier of Bulgaria, Bulgaria Air is based at Sofia Airport and operates scheduled services, ad hoc charter services and business jet transportation. Meanwhile Wizz Air is making its presence felt.
Russia, the CIS nations and Central and Eastern Europe have been receiving a great deal of attention from Middle East-based carriers in recent months. Full service and low-cost carriers have announced or added a flurry of routes into Eastern European destinations over the past few weeks. Airlines in the Middle East are looking to tap into the underserved region, which is still showing strong economic growth despite troubles in several European markets and strong growth in business and tourism traffic.
Homegrown LCCs Air Arabia and flydubai are leading a push into the regions, but so too is Qatar Airways. Additionally, Oman Air plans to launch services to Moscow. While Middle Eastern carriers have long dominated traffic into western Europe, they now comprise the majority of traffic between the Middle East and central Europe, eastern Europe, Russia and CIS.
In a sudden flurry of activity, airports in the northern and central areas of Bulgaria, and now the capital Sofia, are being made available for lease concession. While Sofia Airport has its attractive features, the others may fail to generate much interest.