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HVG

Budapest Airport is the least competitive airport in the region, but its growth opportunities are all the greater, according to the 46-year-old Briton, whose company BAA International has paid HUF465bn for a 75-year contract to operate the airport.

What will your task be?

I'm here for nine months. My successor, Stewart Windgate, who is in charge of customer services at Glasgow Airport, has come with me to ensure a smooth handover. I am here to realise our vision for Budapest Airport, that it should become the main airport in the region. My main task is to turn the airport into a private company. My second task is to develop commercial opportunities. We are starting negotiations with the current commercial service providers to bring them up to international levels.

You faced conflict management tasks on your first day. How did you manage to talk the unions out of striking?

It is a simple formula. We will sit down and talk with them. We asked for time to familiarise ourselves with our demands. We will begin consultations at the beginning of March.

The unions believe that 1300 of the current staff of 2300 are to be outsourced, and 500 are to be sacked.

If this calculation were correct, then the airport would only have 500 employees left. But it is true that we need to make the airport more efficient, and so we will need to cut staffing. But I do not want to discuss precise figures now.

What needs to be changed?

It might seem irrational, but it is logical. The first thing we will do is cut airport usage fees to improve efficiency and profitability.

But in London you have just announced that fees are to be raised to support investment in London's three airports.

In the 15 years following Heathrow's privatisation we continuously cut landing fees. Four years ago, however, we started an enormous development programme, so we needed to raise fees. Terminal 5, which is being built now, will cost GBP4.2bn, or HUF1550bn. The regulatory environment is different as well. In Hungary, the annual sum we can take in landing fees from airlines is tightly regulated. This comes out at EUR12 per passenger this year - less than last year, and the law requires that this fee be cut each year. But as I said, we want to cut fees faster than that. At the same time, we will increase commercial revenues - they will be our largest source of profit.

Last year, Márton Vági, the privatisation agency's CEO, justified the airport's privatisation by saying that several hundreds of billions of forints in investment are needed. But you are planning investments of HUF65bn. Why such restraint?

I have never heard this figure. But I think HUF65bn is an enormous number. There has never been such investment in the airport's history. Remember also that this is the minimum level of investment required by the privatisation contract. It is possible, therefore, that we will invest more than this.

You spent an enormous sum on buying the operating rights, so we assume you expect huge growth. How much growth, exactly?

It was a fair price. We are not looking for short-term profits. BAA's history shows that we do not sell airports. There were 7.5m passengers last year. In five or six years we expect 12m passengers. This is good for the Hungarian economy. As János Kóka, the economics minister, has pointed out, each million passengers equates to around 3000 new jobs. We intend to expand the airport's capacity in order to accommodate 25m passengers by 2020 to 2025. This is the same as London Stansted, the third London airport, behind Heathrow, with 55m passengers and Gatwick, with 32m. Competition is intense in Central Europe. Vienna leads, with 14m passengers a year, but it only grew by 7.2 per cent in the first 10 months of last year. Prague handled more than 10m passengers last year, but its 12.8 per cent growth rate lags behind Budapest's 27.1 per cent growth.

(...)

Budapest Airport has greater growth potential. It is travelling the same road as Prague, but three years behind. There is enormous growth potential for Hungarian tourism. Hungary has joined the EU, Budapest is an attractive city, GDP growth is strong, people are keener than ever to travel. Currently, if a Hungarian wants to travel to America, Asia or Australia, he or she has to fly via a hub. We are negotiating with airlines to launch direct routes to more and more distant countries. Joining the Oneworld alliance is an enormous opportunity for Malév. Budapest Airport is attractive because it has roughly the same land area as Heathrow airport and two runway. We bought this airport's potential.

(...)

Most of the developments will focus on Terminal 2, where we will be linking the A and B wings together. We will expand the check-in area, we will open more shops and restaurants, and we will expand the car park in front of the airport. We will also be building more landing gates.

How long will it take to recover the acquisition cost?

My God! You won't get me to give our profit ratio! All I can say is: this airport will be profitable.
hvg.hu English version

Budapest Airport sold out!

That there was heavy competition to buy Budapest airport is no surprise. European air traffic liberalisation has led to increased rivalry, and airport operators have benefited from the appearance of budget airlines on the scene.

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