Poland: EU membership brings huge increase in airport passengers

Map: showing locations of Polands Airports

Of all the countries that have joined the European Union in the last few years, the one which has witnessed the biggest impact on its aviation market is undoubtedly Poland. With a population of more than 38 million people, Polish airports in 2003 processed just seven million passengers. For comparison, neighbouring Germany, whose population is around 80 million, had just under 150 million passengers pass through its airports in the same year.

Chart: Polish airport traffic 2000 - 06
Source: Airport websites

In just three years, Poland’s airport traffic has more than doubled to 15 million passengers in 2006 with little sign of traffic growth slowing.

Warsaw still dominates – but less than it used to

Warsaw airport (WAW) has seen traffic grow from five million in 2003 to more than eight million in 2006. However, thanks to low-cost carriers opening new direct international routes at many of the other regional airports, Warsaw’s share of Polish traffic has actually fallen from 75% in 2003 to 55% in 2006.

Chart: Polish airport market share 2000 06
Source: Airport websites

However, in volume terms Warsaw is still growing faster than any of the other airports and has added nearly a million passengers in each of the last three years. In 2006, it became a base for Norwegian, which joined easyJet, Germanwings, Ryanair, SkyEurope and Wizz Air as major low-cost carriers serving Poland’s capital.

The airport has even developed a dedicated low-cost terminal.

Chart: Polish Airports Passenger Traffic Growth
Source: Airport websites

LCCs dominate in the regions

National carrier LOT still has around 50% of capacity at Warsaw but at other airports its role is primarily to feed its own hub at WAW or help feed the hubs of its Star Alliance partners. The capacity market share of the top three airlines at the six biggest Polish airports is summarised below.

Airport Airline 1 Airline 2 Airline 3
Warsaw LOT 49.7% Wizz 10.5% Centralwings 5.9%
Krakow SkyEurope 21.1% LOT 16.2% Ryanair 14.3%
Katowice Wizz Air 75.5% Lufthansa 10.5% Centralwings 7.1%
Gdansk Wizz Air 40.1% LOT 25.1% Ryanair 11.2%
Wroclaw Ryanair 40.6% LOT 30.6% Centralwings 15.1%
Poznan LOT 32.0% Ryanair 27.4% Wizz Air 20.1%
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 20 Aug 2007

LCCs have the largest market share at four of the five largest regional airports. The most dominant is Wizz Air, which has three quarters of the Katowice market.

LOT monopoly in domestic market

LOT operates as a monopoly in the Polish domestic market operating 10 routes from its Warsaw hub. The busiest routes are to Gdansk (62 weekly departures), Wroclaw (51 weekly departures) and Krakow (43 weekly departures). These three routes account for around 60% of LOT’s domestic capacity.

LCCs putting LOT under pressure on international routes

The ability to look abroad for employment has seen many Poles head for other countries in the EU, especially the UK and Ireland. In terms of most popular countries for air travel, the UK and Germany lead the way.

Country Frequency Share Capacity Share Aircraft Size
UK 18.3% 26.0% 165 seats
Germany 22.7% 17.6% 90 seats
Ireland 5.8% 8.0% 160 seats
Italy 7.8% 6.5% 97 seats
France 4.6% 4.5% 115 seats
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 20 Aug 2007

The significantly larger average aircraft size on the UK and Irish markets reflects the role of LCCs in stimulating these predominantly leisure and VFR markets. In 2003 the UK to Poland market was just over half a million passengers, representing around 7.5% of Polish airport traffic. In 2004 traffic doubled to one million passengers, increasing by a further 85% in 2005. In 2006 traffic continued to soar, this time by 80% to reach 3.33 million passengers. This now represents over 20% of Polish airport traffic.

While LOT still has by far the most weekly international flights, in terms of weekly seats it is rapidly being caught by Wizz Air.

Chart: Polish International Routes: Top 10 airlines
Source: Airport websites

LCCs make up seven of the Top 10 airlines (if we include Aer Lingus as an LCC). Apart from LOT, only the flag carriers of the UK and Germany make the list.

LOT: will Dreamliner awaken airline’s performance?

Logo: LOTDespite its membership of Star Alliance since 2003, the high recent turnover of CEOs at the company suggests an airline struggling to come to terms with its future role in a fully liberalised market. The airline has only once in the last five years made a significant operating profit, and that was in 2005.

In the first six months of 2007 traffic has increased by an impressive 17% to just over two million with load factors also improving by two percentage points to 73%. This has been achieved by focusing on adding capacity and frequency on existing routes, rather than lots of new routes. Next October the airline hopes to become the first European carrier to operate the new Boeing 787.

LOT operates a European short-haul subsidiary, EuroLot, which flies ATR 42s and 72s and accounts for around 25% of LOTs passenger numbers.

Logo: CentralwingsCentralwings: LOT’s LCC

A low-cost subsidiary Centralwings was started in October 2004 to look after charter operations and low-cost scheduled operations. In 2005 Centralwings made a significant loss according to LOT’s own annual report. Its current network from eight Polish airports provides flights to summer sun destinations around the Mediterranean, but nearly 60% of its capacity is used on flights to the UK and Ireland to cater for the leisure and VFR market. Frequencies on its 40-plus routes are typically no more than four flights per week with only London Gatwick routes from Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw operating as regularly as daily. The fleet consists of a variety of B737s.

Image: Banner

Norwegian’s Polish base celebrates first anniversary

Map: Routes from Warsaw
Norwegian started flights to Warsaw from Oslo in April 2005, but it was not until 13 July 2006 that it started base operations from the airport with 10 routes. By this summer a number of destinations had been dropped (Dublin, Girona, Milan and Nice), while others had been added (Bergen, Birmingham and Copenhagen). This winter Munich, Salzburg and Stavanger are being added to the mix.

Norwegian started flights to Warsaw from Oslo in April 2005, but it was not until 13 July 2006 that it started base operations from the airport with 10 routes. By this summer a number of destinations had been dropped (Dublin, Girona, Milan and Nice), while others had been added (Bergen, Birmingham and Copenhagen). This winter Munich, Salzburg and Stavanger are being added to the mix.


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