Brnik, 24 December (STA) - It is 50 years, to the day, since the first plane touched down at Ljubljana airport. The airport has served more than 935,000 planes carrying over 35.3 million passengers since. Passenger numbers have been increasing steadily throughout this time, while the airport has seen both ups and downs.
Heralded as Slovenia's new window to the world, the new airport at Brnik welcomed the first aircraft on the Christmas Eve of 1963 as the DC-6B of Adria Aviopromet, the precursor of the Slovenian flag carrier, touched down in the morning.
Scheduled flights were launched on 9 January the next year. Flights to Belgrade, Dubrovnik and London were operated by the Yugoslav air carrier JAT, while Adria flew to Belgrade and the Algerian capital of Algiers.
The airport welcomed more than 78,000 passengers in its first year, and turnout has been on the increase since except for brief negative spells. "Drawing a line since the foundation, the airport's traffic has been increasing at an average six percent a year," Zmago Skobir, CEO of operator Aerodrom Ljubljana, says.
The airport, called the Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport today, has also seen some difficult times. It has been impacted by the Gulf War, the oil crisis, the SARS scare in 2003 and the 9/11 2001 terrorist attack on the US. But the airport was hit hardest as Slovenia broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991.
While passenger traffic neared 900,000 in 1987, it collapsed to less than 350,000 after Slovenia declared independence. It took 13 years for the passenger numbers to come close to 900,000 again in 1999. The one million mark was surpassed in 2004 and the figure peaked at almost 1.7m in 2008 when Slovenia held the rotating presidency of the EU.
Since the crisis kicked in in 2009, traffic slowed down again to below 1.2m passengers in 2012. However, the airport saw a new turnaround this year as intensive efforts in the past two years to attract new carriers bore fruit and owing to a recovery at flag carrier Adria Airways.
"Ever since its beginnings, the airport has been healthy and has not witnessed financial difficulties since 1997. It has been developing moderately to enable traffic to grow," Skobir has told the STA, confident that the airport would continue to grow.
Ljubljana airport awaits a new milestone as it has been slated for privatisation and expects to get a new owner next year. "Our wish is for the owner to be a strong company that has the skills and leverage to expand and develop the airport," Skobir says.