Athens airport expects to see traffic drop again in 2002 but won’t be cutting charges

Athens International Airport (AIA), which saw passenger traffic decline by 6.1 percent in its first year of operation, is set to see the slide continue this year due principally to the continued weakness in domestic travel and the airline industry’s protracted recovery, its chief executive said. Matthias Mitscherlich told Kathimerini English Edition that passenger volume is expected to drop by between 5 and 10 percent this year compared with last year despite a steady recovery in the months after the September 11 events. He said the projection was «based on airlines’ requests for landing slots this year and their itineraries.» AIA, which celebrated its first year of operation yesterday, saw 12.2 million passengers go through its gates in that period, against 13 million at the old Hellenikon airport from January to December 2000. Mitscherlich said that while international flights have returned to pre-September 11 levels, domestic travel continues to remain in a slump, the result of airlines’ recent air fare hikes and more competitive services offered by ferry operators. National carrier Olympic Airway’s recent decision to cut a raft of destinations is not expected to impact on the airport as other airlines pick up the slack with new routes, the AIA chief stressed. UK budget airline Virgin Express yesterday became the latest airline to cash in on Olympic’s difficulties, as it launched a daily Athens-Brussels flight for the summer. Other airlines have also increased frequencies to some routes or introduced new destinations, while some are planning to follow suit. Mitscherlich was adamant that the airport would not cut charges this year, after two reductions last year and early this year, in view of the decline in passenger traffic. AIA Deputy Chief Executive Yiannis Paraschis said the reduced landing and parking charges had contributed to a 30-percent fall in revenues. Despite this, revenues in 2001 are expected to exceed forecasts. On the bright side, «Athens is now one of the cheapest airports in Europe for large and medium-sized planes,» he said. He said AIA is now evaluating the best possible uses for its real estate holdings, a total of 173 hectares around the airport, for development as offices or hotels. The airport, rated the sixth best in the world by the International Air Transport Association last September, improved to fifth place in the organization’s latest global monitoring survey, while maintaining its rank as second among European airports.

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