After years of underperformance that have cost local taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, the Polish city of Lodz has placed its airport up for sale. With the number of passengers and routes steadily decreasing over the years and losses covered by the taxpayer, city officials seem to have now decided that enough is enough. “We’ve hit a wall. Practically nothing is flying from Lodz airport,” says the city’s deputy major Adam Pustelnik. Traffic has been reduced to just one just scheduled route – to London Stansted, operated by Ryanair. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, even this route is currently suspended.
In 2016, a Reuters investigation named Lodz one of Poland’s ‘ghost’ airports. These airports were built or supported by a large amount of EU funding but serve less than one million passengers yearly. In addition to Lodz, Rzeszow and Lublin were also mentioned.
According to the European Commission, between 2007 and 2013, Poland received 615.7 million euros in EU support for airports, twice as much as the next biggest recipient Spain. However, it seems that some of the plans of local Polish governments may have been too ambitious. For Lodz, it was certainly so, as projected passenger numbers fell short by about one million once the terminal was rebuilt in 2013. The consultancy firm Ernst and Young predicted a minimum of 1.042 million passengers. The actual number was 353,633. This number had further decreased by 2018 to only 217,000. The more successful Krakow airport, on the other hand, saw a record 6.77 million passengers that same year.
As a solution to the airport’s longstanding financial troubles, the city’s officials are now hoping it can become a transport and logistics hub with the help of investment from Asia.
“Lodz can be a window to Europe for the countries of the Far East… [a] cargo logistics hub [would] give huge impetus for the city’s development and create new jobs,” says the city’s major Hanna Zdanowska. For now, however, there are no concrete plans or even a timetable for the sale. Municipal leaders will also have to seek the support of local councillors for their plan to sell the city’s 95.5 per cent stake in the airport. A statement from Robert Kolczyński, the head of the council’s strategy and development department, indicates that the city would like to retain a measure of control over the airport. “We don’t want to get rid of all the shares. We can sell the investor a minority or a majority share package but leaving ourselves golden shares to allow us to block key elements,” he said.
Airport CEO Anna Midera says that she supports the decisions, while noting that the airport’s losses decreased by EUR 6.6 million (USD 8 million) in the four years that she has run the company.
In November 2020, it was reported that the airport had actually suffered smaller losses during the pandemic than it had when it was operating normally during 2019.
But Mr Pustelnik admitted that pivoting Lodz to a logistics hub won’t be an easy task. “We are aware that such an operation has only succeeded in a few places and it will be very hard to do it… The risk of failure is huge, but we simply must accept the challenge,” he says, additionally citing German and Dutch examples of logistics hubs as examples for Lodz to emulate. Despite the troubles some airports in the country have had and the uncertain future of air travel in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Polish government still has very ambitious plans when it comes to aviation.
The Solidarity Transport Hub, planned for the centre of the country and which will combine a huge new airport with railway interchanges and road connections, is a EUR 2.2-billion (USD 2.6 billion) project on which construction is due to begin in 2023. It is set to be completed in 2027.
This however could spell further trouble for Lodz, as the new mega airport will be located halfway between the city and the capital Warsaw. For now, the future of the Lodz airport is uncertain, as the plans to sell it off and turn it into a logistics hub are still essentially at the idea stage. #1143.11