Interview with Jiří Kraus, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors, Prague Airport
How many passengers travelled via Prague Airport in 2018 and by what percentage did their number increase compared to the previous period?
The number of passengers handled by our airport has been increasing since 2013. Last year, we handled approximately 16.8 million passengers, which is a 9% year-on-year increase. Most of them flew to the United Kingdom, Italy and Russia. But the number of passengers keeps increasing this year, as well, by approximately 5%. For example, we handled approximately 1.4 million passengers in April of this year, which is a 5.2% year-on-year increase. We noted a similar result also in May and June looks very good as well so far.
Due to the increasing number of passengers, Prague Airport is at the edge of its capacity. What measures are you taking to manage this situation better?
We are implementing short-term development projects and we also have the long-term development plans. Through the short-term measures, we managed to increase the airport capacity to approximately 17.5 million handled passengers, however, we can no longer grow with the existing airport infrastructure; we need to build a new one. Therefore, we are planning construction of the new Terminal 2, as well as a parallel runway.
One of the most important short-term projects which we have already implemented is, for instance, the new central security control at Terminal 2. We opened it last June and it enabled us to increase the local capacity by as much as 40%. Last year, we also opened 600 new parking spaces for passengers and large-capacity carousels in the checked luggage reclaim area at Terminal 1. In the same terminal, we established a new apron with a new gate and increased the number of the check-in desks here.
Last June, we finished reconstruction of three gates with new jet bridges at Terminal 1. This enables us to handle as many as six medium-haul planes more per day, which corresponds to one thousand passengers per day.
An extensive reconstruction of both luggage sorting stations started in January. Reconstruction of the sorting station at Terminal 2 will increase its capacity by almost 50%; the capacity of the sorting station at Terminal 1 will remain unchanged, but the entire area will be modernized, including new technologies. Next year, we would like to add another brand new check-in island with 24 new desks at Terminal 2.
Prague Airport plans to modernize the traffic, construction and technical infrastructure; the assumed value of the projects should amount to about one billion EUR. What specific constructions and projects does this involve?
In particular, we would like to expand the airport in terms of construction and technology in three areas. First of all, it includes the parallel runway construction; we are also preparing the above-mentioned expansion of Terminal 2 and finally, we are planning construction of the “Airport City”, a public area in the immediate vicinity of the airport terminals. Sports facilities, convention halls, development centres, hotels, medical centres and similar facilities might be established here in the longer term.
The biggest planned project is the parallel runway construction. What will it be used for?
We expect the air travel demand to increase, which is good news for Prague and for the Czech Republic. We certainly want people to travel to Prague. And we also want Czech people to fly more. But this will be possible only if we have an airport with sufficient capacity. We already experience situations when we have to offer alternatives to the arrival and departure times requested by the airlines, because we have full capacity at the busiest times and we just cannot get more flights on the runway. Ultimately, this may even be a reason for an airline not to open the new service from Prague. This is the reason why we need the parallel runway.
Once it is opened, the airport capacity should increase to the maximum of 21 million handled passengers a year and 72 movements per hour, however, this will also result in permanent closure of the existing runway 12/30 with a route above the densely populated parts of Prague and Kladno. This will bring relief to about 200,000 citizens. Besides, we will also be able to close the night operation of the airport thanks to the parallel runway. There will be no flights at night from midnight to 5:29 AM.
When will the works on modernization start and how long will they last?
As I have mentioned, we have already started the short-term development plans and a number of them already work. As far as the parallel runway construction is concerned, we would like to commence it in 2023 and finish it in 2026. Based on the latest estimates, we will start the Terminal 2 expansion in about 2024 and it should be finished in 2027.
Will you have to implement special measures with direct impacts on passengers because of the works in the airport?
Construction as extensive as what we are planning will certainly require certain limitations. For example, we should start construction of the new car park B in 2021, followed by reconstruction of the entire public area outside Terminal 2, including the entire local traffic organization. This will definitely require certain traffic restrictions, as well as a temporary decrease in the parking capacity.
In addition to the infrastructure improvement, the air services keep placing an emphasis on security. Are you also planning to modernize this area?
Prague Airport is one of the most secure airports in Europe and we are constantly improving the security measures, in particular, with respect to availability of modern technologies, application of new procedures, but also with respect to the current security threats. We have decided to install new whole-body security scanners. We have opened a tender for a supplier of these technologies and we are currently enquiring about seven body scanners with an option of non-guaranteed purchase of another eight units. In case of a successful tender, we assume the new technologies would be supplied at the end of this year.
In the middle of April, an emergency training was held in Prague Airport that was attended by 350 people. What was the purpose and result of it?
The purpose of the training was to test the procedures set for managing incidents and air accidents, but also to test cooperation of the airport security and operational divisions and the Integrated Rescue System services. The result was excellent.
The exercise demonstrated proper readiness of the airport security and operations and of the crisis management. The exercise was attended by 220 action persons, 100 helpers and 30 members of the organizational team and technical crew.
Such extensive trainings are held in Prague Airport at least once every two years. There are a number of less extensive emergency exercises which are held in the airport throughout the year. The April exercise was exceptional in its extent. It was participated in by more rescue services, for the first time also by the Czech Army and the Air Rescue Services. The exercise was also participated in by the two closest hospitals to a much bigger extent, which tested their procedures for mass admission of injured persons.
Are you currently negotiating with some airlines about new direct flights from Prague?
We are negotiating with a number of airlines about direct flights to destinations where we perceive huge potential, in particular, high demand of the passengers. In the case of long-haul flights, these are direct flights to Bangkok, Hanoi, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami. It is also very important for us to obtain a year-round connection with New York, because although we have two direct connections with the biggest city in the USA, these are only seasonal lines. As far as the short- and medium-haul routes are concerned, we are striving for flights to Tallinn, Cairo, Vilnius, Stuttgart and Seville.
Interviewed by: Martin Schwarz
Photos by: Prague Airport