Three Balkan countries seek to improve smaller, regional airports to bring about greater economic and tourism opportunities.
By Enis Rexhepi for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 24/01/14
Balkan countries want to convince low-cost air carriers to operate at regional airports. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
Albania, Kosovo and Serbia are working to expand services at regional airports to complement the work of the international hubs in Southeast Europe.
Officials said they want regional airports to serve low-cost carriers and freight transports, increasing travel options and improving services for passengers travelling abroad as well as contributing to tourism and economic development at home.
Last month, KFOR handed over control of the airport in Gjakova to the Kosovo government, which said it wants to open the facility to private investors.
"We hope we will implement within a short period of time that which is defined in the action plan to meet investor requirements," Bernard Nikaj, Kosovo's deputy minister of trade and industry, told SETimes.
"We think the Gjakova airport's primary function should be freight flights that will have an effect on the economic development of the region," Nikaj said.
Nikaj said the optimum economic gain is for the Gjakova airport to complement the work of the Pristina airport, providing economic benefits for the entire country and better services to customers at both airports.
"[It] can have significant impact not only on the aviation of Kosovo, but also is expected to have a positive impact on the overall economic development of Kosovo and in particular the region of Dukagjini," Nikaj said.
Similarly, in Albania, the government is negotiating with the Tirana International Airport authority to open the airport in Kukes, 140 kilometres north of Tirana and close to the Kosovo border.
This Kukes airport was inaugurated in 2010, but does not operate because the Tirana airport has exclusive rights over international flights.
"Given the constant increase in the number of passengers and the need of the local market for low-cost air transport service, the necessity for a second airport that will accommodate low-cost airlines is obvious," Krislen Keri, chief of staff of the Albania transport and infrastructure minister, told SETimes.
Keri said the negotiations are examining all the possibilities on how to expand the market to be followed up by investment to make the Kukes airport functional.
In Serbia, the government is trying to revive the airport in Nis, Serbia's second largest city, in the poorest part of the country hard hit by economic crisis.
Officials said they want to attract foreign investors and tourists to nearby Mount Zlatibor, a popular location for skiing and hiking.
The airport is open to civil flights only, including tours and private aircraft, but is not used for commercial flights yet. It is equipped, however, to accommodate large jets.
"The airport in Nis has a very low volume of traffic, especially compared to the Nikola Tesla airport in Belgrade," the civil aviation directorate of Serbia told SETimes in a statement.
The directorate said it has made plans to improve the airport, including extending the length of the runway, constructing a new airport building, creating conditions to introduce freight transportation and construction of facilities for additional airport activities.
"We are presenting the airport, its performances and opportunities to all air companies that are showing interest in doing business in Serbia in order to improve the current situation, given that the airport satisfies all standards and conditions," the directorate said in the statement.
Correspondents Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade and Erl Murati in Tirana contributed to this report.
What can the Balkan countries do to further improve air transportation? Share your opinion in the comments section.