DALLAS — For some time now, Katowice Wojciech Korfanty Airport (KTW) has been under the spotlight of the Polish Civil Aviation Authority (ULC), which has been impeding the growth of the airport’s destination network.
The recent decisions of the ULC regarding the opening of new routes from Katowice seem to protect LOT Polish Airlines (LO) from the competition, but they stifle and downplay KTW’s destination network expansion plans.
The Solidarity Transport Hub
The recent decisions come ahead of the government’s plans to build Solidarity Transport Hub or Central Communication Port, scheduled to open before 2030.
The new airport, which would also integrate ground and rail links, will be built 40 kilometers (25 mi) southwest of Warsaw and is expected to replace the current Warsaw Chopin Airport (WAW).
According to Polish Airports, the leading company of the PPL Business Group that is in charge of the mega project, the new airport would be able to handle up to 45 million passengers.
Turkish Airlines Goes Around
In December 2022, KTW and Turkish Airlines (TK) announced the launch of a new route from KTW to the airline’s hub in Istanbul (IST), with five flights per week.
After an international sales campaign, local advertisement investment, and overall good sales numbers, PPL granted TK permission to fly the route during the northern hemisphere winter season only, just for three weeks since its planned inaugural flight on March 3.
Based on PPL’s legal provisions and the current air transport agreements between Poland and Turkey, Turkish carriers could fly to two airports in Poland, for example, to Warsaw, and the second airport in the existing agreements is Katowice.Piotr Adamczyk, PR Manager of Katowice Airport
“We were surprised to hear that the Civil Aviation Authority ULC refuses to perform a technical process to approve the Turkish Airlines schedule on the Istanbul – Katowice route for the Summer 2023 season from March 26 to October 28, 2023. Due to the prolonged waiting time for approval, Turkish Airlines decided to postpone the inauguration date of the flight to May 1, 2023, while suspending temporarily the sale of tickets.” Adamczyk said.
When ULC was asked the reasons behind the delay in the approval, it responded with the following statement:
“The application is considered based on the provisions of the Aviation Law and the Agreement between the Government of the Polish People’s Republic and the Government of the Republic of Turkey on air transport. According to the said international agreement, air carriers of the Turkish and Polish sides must agree with each other regarding the carriages carried out in a given scheduling season. In the Winter 2022-2023 scheduling season, the carrier of the Polish side, i.e. LOT Polish Airlines S.A., did not raise any objections to Turkish Airlines operating flights on the Istanbul-Katowice route. Therefore, Turkish Airlines can operate flights until the end of the winter season. In turn, LOT Polish Airlines in a letter filed on January 12, 2023, informed the ULC that it is interested in starting flights on the route from Katowice to Istanbul. Therefore, according to the aforementioned agreement, in the Summer 2023 season, both carriers must agree on a flight schedule between Poland and Turkey.”
Adamczyk claims that the scope of the agreement is merely technical and should not impede the start of the route. He further states that the Upper Silesian Aviation Group (GTL), the operator of KTW has never received any request from LOT (LO) to start the Istanbul service from KTW.
If Turkish Airlines is denied to serve Katowice it will be a blow to the airport. To date, TK serves over 300 destinations in 124 countries, thus hampering the efforts of serving around 2.3 million people living in the Metropolis GZM region.
If we add the larger Upper Silesian metropolitan area that extends into the Czech Republic, the market size would exceed seven million people.
The Wizz Air Case
Wizz Air (W6) has also faced similar issues as TK. Earlier this year in late January, the low-cost carrier announced Yerevan (EVN) as its 38th destination from Katowice.
Considering the large Armenian community in Poland, there is a high demand, with LO serving flights from Warsaw to Yerevan exclusively. The opening of W6 flights from KTW would definitively drive fares down.
Although W6 planned the flights to start on April 29, 2023, ULC did not approve the route.
“Wizz Air is disappointed with the attitude of the Polish Civil Aviation Authority (ULC), which from January 2023 has been delaying the decision to allow the airline to launch a route from Katowice to Yerevan, even though the EU (European Union) has signed a common airspace agreement with Armenia, under which both EU and Armenian carriers can operate air connections between EU countries and Armenia without any additional requirements.” The low-cost carrier said in a statement.
The Polish Civil Aviation Authority stated in a press release that the current agreement between Armenia and Poland allows only one airline to serve flights between both countries. As LOT operates flights from Warsaw to Yerevan, the Wizz Air request was denied.
Protecting LOT, Downplaying Katowice
Poland has experienced expansive growth in its air transport in recent years, thanks to the role of low-cost carriers such as Ryanair (FR), and W6, which lead the local market.
In the past five years, passenger numbers were rapidly increasing. In 2018, 45 million passengers traveled through all airports in Poland, with 49 million in 2019. After the COVID-19 hiatus, the numbers have bounced back, with 41 million passengers served in the country during 2022.
Downplaying the role of KTW in the air travel sector in Poland through protectionist practices hidden in bureaucratic decisions intended to favor LO as a so-called “chosen instrument” means the loss of new market opportunities.
This is particularly critical with the proposed TK service, which would open Katowice to one of the world’s largest aviation hubs.
Featured image: Katowice Airport