“Ryanair is very happy with how its services are being received. They have no complaints,” says Alexander Schroll to anna.aero. In September 2015 the ULCC became the first scheduled airline to fly from the Spanish airport, with it opening routes to London Stansted and Bristol, with the latter being the destination for this departing 737-800. This September the Irish airline will open a new connection to Sofia, with it becoming the third European capital connection for the airport after London and Bucharest.
Nestled at the heart of Spain’s East Coast, Castellon Airport is the nation’s newest, with it having officially welcomed its first scheduled service last September with Ryanair inaugurating its thrice-weekly service from London Stansted, a flight which anna.aero’s Assistant Editor Jonathan Ford was on
. The airline currently operates two services to Castellon, with its second being Bristol. From this September, a third route will be launched to Sofia, meaning that the airline will offer flights to not just the UK, but Bulgaria as well. On 1 June the airport officially welcomed its second carrier. Blue Air commenced twice-weekly (Wednesdays and Sundays) service from Bucharest, a flight which anna.aero was also aboard
. By the end of this summer, Castellon will be connected to three European capitals directly, London, Bucharest and Sofia.
Source: UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) June 2016.
31,000 scheduled passengers in first seven months
During Castellon’s first seven months of operation between September 2015 and March 2016, Ryanair carried 31,000 passengers on its services from Bristol and Stansted to the Spanish airport, with Bristol only operating until November due to it being a summer seasonal service. Looking at CAA data for the same time period, Ryanair’s Castellon route from Stansted performed better than some of its existing Spanish services including Reus
anna.aero meets Alexander Schroll, CEO of Castellon Airport
While on a visit to Castellon Airport, Schroll gave Ford a tour of the airport facilities, which included a visit to the Falconry. These birds are used to help deter wildlife that grace the airfield at Castellon.
After arriving on the inaugural flight from Bucharest, anna.aero’s Assistant Editor met with the airport’s new CEO Alexander Schroll, a man who moved from the mega-hub of Munich to the airport at the start of this year. Some of the topics discussed included why he made the move from Munich, and what he can bring to Spain’s newest airport.
anna.aero: “What was the decision for you to move from Munich to Castellon?”
“It was time for a change. After 20 years at Munich it has never been boring but it was time for me to start thinking what I shall do in the future, and in fact the incentives which were offered by SNC-Lavalin were great and it gave me the opportunity to manage an airport. It is a good challenge and task, and I think Munich would have been unable to offer me such an opportunity as I have here, because it is focussing on its own airport. It is already a five-star facility and it is wanting to maintain that level of standard. What it is not doing is that it’s not investing in other airports like companies such as Fraport or any other groups which are expanding their airport portfolios. I have been very interested to work in Spain, because my parents actually live not too far away, around 90 kilometres from Castellon. I studied Spanish and so I am able to speak the language. After my degree in Munich I worked in Spain in the hotel business as an entertainer, that was many years ago. Then I had a more serious job in Spain at a Bavarian based software company and I helped them to get established in the Spanish markets, so I was living for around another six months in Madrid. What I am trying to say here is that there is a strong link between me and Spain and also my family. My main aim and objective was to always work in Spain. After 20 years in Munich I was ready for the move to Spain, but it was waiting for the right job opportunity to come up before I made the decision, and SNC-Lavalin offered me the perfect job.”
aa: “With the difference between being in route development at Munich and being the CEO of Castellon Airport, what are the new challenges that you face in this role compared to your previous position?”
“Well I believe that they have chosen me because of my past in route development, because this is one of the main aims here at Castellon, to attract new airlines, because right now we only have two. But on the other hand I am also very much involved in operations and security and safety, these are also quite new to me, not 100% new however. When I was at Munich I was the first contact between the airline and the relevant department which they needed to connect with. Now that I am the CEO I am having to deal with these things as well. Also a new challenge for me is having to deal with the press and media. This is quite a new task for me that I have not had to deal with before unless it was related to a new route launch. In Spain, it is mainly dealing with many governmental issues between different parties and their views of the airport. In this region there are many left-wing and right-wing parties with different views so it is hard to try and keep an ideal balance between the two.”
aa: “In regards to having a lot of focus on the route development side at Castellon, we have recently seen Blue Air inaugurate flights to Bucharest, and in September Ryanair will commence operations from Sofia. From that point it will mean a one-year period of commercial operations, with three routes with one carrier and one route with another. What will we see in the next 12 months after September?”
“We could not sign a deal yet, however we are in the process of negotiating a deal with a new carrier and we are building greater relationships with other carriers as well so things are looking promising. I think we could focus on three major pillars, one would be tourism traffic, bringing in people from Northern European countries, especially seasonal tourist charter operations. Another is regular services which are already existing to main core markets, building up on what we have established so far. Then there is the ethnic market, Castellon is one of the largest Romanian residences outside of Romania, with around 55,000 registered in the city of Castellon and that is just the city, it does not take into account this whole region of Spain. Castellon is one of the largest Romanian cities outside of Romania. We want to focus on this VFR traffic as there is huge potential to grow service to Romania. We have developed this service to Bucharest but there is certainly room to grow flights into more regional parts of Romania, and also other Eastern European markets as well. The second largest VFR market after this region though is Morocco. Last but not least are aim is also to attract a flag/hub carrier who could connect our region to a global network. The reason for this is due to the percentage between the inbound and outbound traffic. When I joined from Munich I was not expecting to see a major positioning of inbound compared to outbound traffic. At the moment we are seeing just as many people leaving Castellon as are coming into the region, so we are seeing a demand for locals wanting to travel from the airport. There is a lot of business around here, especially from the ceramics industry. We have many ceramic companies in this region which are based around the world. With that at the moment we are currently looking at the data to see how many journeys are done with these business on a corporate level from this catchment area. At the moment from the data I have seen so far it is looking very promising and once we have completely gathered all of this data we will further strengthen our business case to flag carriers about future service. One potential carrier is Turkish Airlines.”
aa: “In regards to a potential hub and spoke connection to a major hub, could one potential destination on that list be Madrid? Offering then a domestic connection to the Spanish capital. Or could this be a slimline route due to the closeness of Madrid?”
“Madrid would absolutely make sense as we would have the right mix between connecting traffic and P2P (point-to-point) traffic. In order to establish a link to a hub there must also be a business case for P2P traffic, and at a healthy level as well that is able to make the route sustainable. This would most certainly be the case with Madrid. It is most certainly one of the first candidates for a hub service that we are after.”
aa: “You have mentioned the ceramics industry and the connections that the industry has from this region to other areas of the world. What are the key markets where those links are to? Or is it still a case of analysing the corporate data?”
Ford and Schroll are seen discussing the best hub connection opportunities for Castellon. Although no hub connection is currently in place, the airport is connected to three European capitals.
“The first market is of course Europe, and especially France. That is the first market for corporate travel. When it comes to the inter-continental market it is Asia, and most certainly the most important one.”
aa: “Since you joined Castellon you have been to two route development conferences, CONNECT in Vilnius and Routes Europe in Krakow. How have they been for you coming from Munich to Castellon? Have your previous contacts helped you in developing new business cases with airlines you have worked with very closely in the past?”
“It was most certainly a big help to have my previous contacts from before, especially from the likes of Europe. But to be honest it is completely different because before I was representing a major hub in Munich and now I am representing Castellon. Firstly you have to educate the airlines with this collection of brand new data that you have not presented to them before.”
aa: “Castellon has now been in operation for around nine months since the first Ryanair flight from London Stansted graced the tarmac. How have the services to Stansted and Bristol been performing since they started?”
Thank you very much for this question, I was hoping it was going to come up. They’re very happy with how the routes have been performing. The Ryanair data is looking to be very promising, they are very happy. You know more than I do that Ryanair is usually the carrier to start complaining when it is not happy when something is not working. Surprising they have noticed that high rate of outbound traffic but the reality shows that the split between inbound and outbound is around 50:50. This is amazing to see as it shows Ryanair that there is further potential from this region to expand as it is not just one-way inbound traffic from the UK. This is what they were expecting when the routes were launched.”
aa: “With that in mind then, the carrier’s new route to Sofia that will be launching later this year, was that a result of the airport approaching the carrier or it making the route venture opportunity on its own accord?”
“Well this route was announced and on sale before I started working for Castellon Airport but from what I understand this opportunity was developed between both SNC-Lavalin and the airline, and not just their own decision. However, it was not developed especially from our side and it was a surprise when they announced the connection to Sofia along with it also announcing service to Madrid and Barcelona from Sofia. So it is also to do with the strategy of Ryanair in the Eastern European market. We are also very happy that with Ryanair announcing a new base in Sofia that the three routes to Spain that they announced were Barcelona, Madrid and Castellon.
aa: “Castellon is the only commercial airport in Spain that is not run by Aena. How is the airport marketing themselves against this strong competition and making sure that it is prominent in such a competitive market?”
Schroll points out to Ford the local landmarks that surround the airport. The area is very well known with hikers due to its close proximity to various mountain natural parks, with this part of Spain very attractive for those tourists that are after an adrenaline type of break as well as the sun and sea.
“I try to take this fact as a USP because without coming too close to Aena it is a monster. I also feel though that their customer orientation is not as good as it could be due to their monopoly of the market….to be polite. It is a good advantage to Castellon however. Aena is a big consortium that is focussing mainly on its main gateways like Madrid, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Alicante, Malaga etc. Therefore the smaller airports which they run are not happy at all as they are not receiving the equal share of marketing as these main hubs. For example Santander is complaining that they are not getting the support that they need in order to attract new air services.”
aa: “So you’re saying there that Castellon has got the advantage of being at the forefront of marketing with SNC-Lavalin while Aena is only focusing on the airports they feel need it in order to compete with the European market?”
aa: “Finally we know that shortly the airport will be opening a cargo terminal. How are business opportunities looking for this facility?”
“We are working closely with one carrier which is keen to use the facilities but at the moment there is nothing firm in place. One advantage that we do have is that there is no curfew on Castellon in regards to its time of operation which is very attractive to cargo airlines. What this facility also brings is the strengthening of a business case to attract a full service carrier. As you know, they also thrive from cargo as well as just passenger traffic, and this facility will help to generate better yields on these types of services once we get them.”
Welcome to Castellon Blue Air, the airport’s second scheduled carrier after Ryanair. The Romanian LCC will operate a twice-weekly (Wednesdays and Sundays) year-round service into the Spanish airport from its Bucharest base, meaning that the Romanian city becomes the second European capital to be served from Castellon after London.
“Ford…get out of the ATC tower…there is no cake for you to judge up there!” Overviewing Castellon Airport form its control tower is anna.aero’s roving reporter Jonathan Ford who had just arrived on Blue Air’s inaugural flight from Bucharest. Ford is the only person to have flown on both Ryanair’s and Blue Air’s first services to Castellon. Now…who will be carrier number three?