Most Central European countries only liberalised their air transport markets when they were obliged to as a condition of joining the EU in May 2004. This was seen by analysts as a way of protecting their often unprofitable national carriers from competition for as long as possible. However, the Czech Republic took a more enlightened approach to competition and realised that the benefit from dramatically increased inbound tourism far outweighed the possible loss of revenue to the state airline, CSA, on a few routes. As a result, Go started low-cost services from London Stansted as long ago as September 1999.
|Postcard from Prague: Many people have taken advantage of the cheap alcohol, especially Brits. But there are some great buildings to look at as well.|
UK market fuels rapid growth
Between 1999 and 2005 traffic between the UK and Prague quadrupled from just over half a million passengers to well over two million. The main driver of this growth was not, sadly, the delights of the gothic architecture in the old town or the picturesque bridges but rather the availability of cheap alcohol. As a result Prague rapidly became the ‘exotic’ alternative for stag nights and hen parties.
|Source: Prague Airport|
During the same period Prague’s total traffic more than doubled from 4.8 million to 10.8 million passengers. In 2005 it seems the UK market finally reached saturation and traffic actually fell in 2006 while other less-mature country markets continued to grow. In 2007 the UK market has continued to fall by a further 4% with connections from Blackpool (with jet2.com), Cardiff (with bmibaby) and Glasgow (with Flyglobespan) being dropped during the course of the summer. For this winter CSA is finally dropping its London Stansted service.
The four London airports generate around half of all UK originating Prague traffic but there are still regional connections from Belfast, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Doncaster/Sheffield, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Leeds/Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle.
|Source: Prague Airport|
Prague’s seasonality profile is relatively normal with a summer peak to winter trough ratio of around two-to-one. As Prague Airport celebrates its 70th anniversary this year passenger traffic in the first eight months of 2007 is up 7% and new destinations from Prague this summer include Atlanta, Cagliari, Catania, Kaliningrad, Malaga, Moscow Domodedovo, Rimini, Stavanger, Tatry/Poprad, Varna and Verona.
UK market falters but others growing rapidly
Having kicked off the low-cost boom in 1999 the UK market appears to have peaked with a 10% reduction in traffic in 2006. Other country markets are more than compensating with France, Germany, Greece, Russia and Switzerland all experiencing growth of over 20% while Italy saw traffic surge by 44% last year.
|Source: Prague Airport|
Ireland’s ranking of 10th may improve when daily Ryanair services to Dublin get under way in early November. This marks a belated entry into the Prague market by the Irish low-cost leader having previously restricted itself to serving Brno from London Stansted and Barcelona Girona (starting next week).
CSA still has half the market; launches new low-cost brand
Despite the rapid growth of low-cost airlines at Prague airport the national airline CSA still has around half of all flights and seats with LCC now having around a quarter of all capacity. In 2006 CSA carried nearly 4.66 million passengers on scheduled services (3.6% more than in 2005) at a load factor of 69.7% (up 1.6 points). In the first seven months of 2007 scheduled traffic has fallen around half a percent and load factors have also fallen nearly five points. However, the airline’s punctuality is the best of any AEA member airline.
CSA has been a SkyTeam member since 2001 and currently operates a fleet of 50 aircraft to 104 destinations in 44 countries. At present the top 10 scheduled airlines at Prague are:
|Airline||Frequency Share||Capacity Share|
|Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 15 October 2007|
In response to the growing intrusion of foreign LCCs (and local rival Smartwings) CSA recently announced a new low-cost brand Click4sky. This is a separate website where customers can buy seats at a fixed price of CZK 1,990 (€73) on travel to/from Prague to 36 destinations in 22 countries. No reference is made to CSA on the homepage. With availability severely restricted passengers are then advised that they should book with Czech Airlines (CSA) if they are unable to get the cheap seat they were hoping for.
In terms of passengers in 2006 Travel Service (which includes low-cost scheduled subsidiary Smartwings) was the second largest carrier after CSA ahead of easyJet, Lufthansa, British Airways and SkyEurope. Smartwings was began operations in May 2004 and last year ranked as the fourth largest LCC at Prague airport. Its network development has been somewhat haphazard over the years. This summer it has focussed on Spain, Greece and Cyprus with additional services to Rome and Paris. Only Paris is served at least daily with most destinations served just twice or three times per week. Earlier this year Icelandair bought a 50% stake in Travel Service with an option to buy a further 30%
SkyEurope sets up major base
SkyEurope only started services from Prague in 2006 but this summer operated 15 routes at the height of the summer season and plans to have four aircraft based at the airport for the coming winter season. Frequencies have been increased on key business routes such as Amsterdam, Milan and Paris while there are new daily regional services to Bratislava, Kosice and Vienna. London Luton and Venice Treviso are also added to SkyEurope’s Czech network starting with the winter programme.
Belfast becomes easyJet’s 10th route
Daily routes to five UK destinations (Stansted and Gatwick are even served twice daily) are supported by daily routes to Dortmund and Milan Malpensa. Services to Geneva and Basel are operated by easyJet Switzerland and a new service to Belfast International (four times weekly) begins on 1 November which will compete head-to-head with Jet2.com’s service.