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Most international traffic to Lithuania goes through Vilnius International Airport, however Kaunas, to the northwest of the capital Vilnius, is the destination for most budget airlines. The national carrier of Lithuania, Lithuanian Airlines (FlyLAL), suspended operations and declared bankruptcy in 2009 after suffering the effects of a price war with its major competitor airBaltic and amassing huge debts. The only native carrier operating scheduled services out of Lithuania now is the LCC Star1 Airlines, based at Vilnius International Airport.
Airports in Lithuania
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Lithuania Part 2: Small Planet Airlines focuses on other markets as airport privatisation is pursued
This is the second in a series of reports on the Lithuanian aviation market. The first report focused on the evolution of the Lithuanian airline sector and the emergence of Small Planet Airlines (SPA) as a de facto flag carrier although it operates entirely as a charter airline on behalf of tour operators.
This will report will examine further growth opportunities for SPA, which for now is focusing on overseas markets in particular Southeast Asia. It will also review potential opportunities for growing Lithuania's tourism sector and for privatising and developing Lithuania's airports.
There are few countries where an outright charter carrier is the de facto national flag carrier.
But that is the case in Lithuania where a succession of failed scheduled carriers contrasts with a relatively new airline that sells seats exclusively to tour operators, in several countries across continents, is expanding almost exponentially, has one of the lowest CASKs in Europe, isn't highly leveraged, and is profitable.
That is far from the only surprising thing about Lithuania though, a country that is privatising its airports without really privatising them and which, is only just beginning to wake up to its tourism potential.
In Mar-2015 CAPA published a report highlighting how Belgrade Airport, in tandem with Air Serbia, was working towards a re-balancing of power in central and eastern Europe, away from the traditional hubs of Vienna, Budapest and Prague, although it had a long way to go to achieve such an ambitious aim.
Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport passenger numbers grew almost 32% in 2014 and Air Serbia underwent “one of the most amazing turnarounds in history,” as it joined the Etihad equity partnership. But not everyone is experiencing such blue skies.
This is an appropriate moment to review infrastructure investments and privatisation activities at airports throughout the entire region, where there are opportunities for investors through concessions, BOTs and IPOs. But as ever, caution is required.
Wizz Air CEO Josef Varadi told a recent meeting of the Aviation Club in London that he ran a very disciplined airline. "We never grow for growth's sake", he said, explaining that the airline had clear financial targets and that growth was an output from this process.
Earlier this year, Wizz Air pulled out of a planned initial public offering (IPO) of its shares, which would have seen it floated on the London Stock Exchange. Investor appetite was dulled by geopolitical issues, a fuel price spike and profit warnings from other airlines, rather than any problems at the airline itself. Indeed, its most recent accounts show that it is now one of Europe's most profitable airlines, with significant cash reserves. An IPO could come back onto the agenda, but, Mr Varadi said, "we are not desperate".
Its results have not always been strong in the 10 years since its 2004 launch, but our analysis of its accounts suggests that it is now on a firm footing, supporting Mr Varadi's claim that "financial performance is at the core of the airline – we are not doing it for charity".
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.
Air Lituanica launched services at the end of Jun-2013, making it the first scheduled Lithuanian carrier since the collapse of FlyLAL in 2009 and Star1 Airlines in 2010. Air Lituanica will see Lithuania once again connected to other key European countries through a home-based carrier.
As the largest of the three Baltic states with a land area of 65,300km2, Lithuania has a population of about three million and had a GDP in 2012 of about USD42 billion, according to World Bank data. The country currently has four airports in Vilnius, Kaunas, Palanga and Šiauliai which are served by about 20 foreign carriers.
Aside from Air Lituanica, there are currently five other Lithuanian airlines including five charter carriers (Aurela, Avion Express, DOT LT, Grand Cru Airlines and Small Planet Airlines) and one cargo carrier (Aviavilsa). There have been no domestic services in the country since the demise of FlyLAL.