Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Turkish consortium bids to build Vlora airport as Albania prepares to launch national carrier

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By Tirana Times
January 17, 2018 14:23

TIRANA, Jan. 17 – A Turkish-consortium that is building Istanbul’s third airport has offered to build Albania’s second airport in a regional project that also paves the way for Albania to set up its national flag carrier and reduce current ticket prices, among the region’s highest.

The project to build a regional airport in Vlora, southern Albania, comes as part of the assistance the Albanian government has been receiving from the Turkish government and its Turkish Airlines, to open up new airports and set up its national carrier in a bid to offer passengers a new alternative to Tirana International Airport, the country’s sole international airport.

The airport is also expected to benefit Albania’s rapidly growing tourism industry and southern Albanian destinations such as Vlora, Saranda and Gjirokastra, making access to Ionian coastline and UNESCO World Heritage sites easier.

“We have received a request for the great strategic investment on the new Vlora national airport. Construction of works to begin by next June,” Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on social media on Wednesday.

The country’s infrastructure ministry later unveiled it had received a bid by three Turkish companies, Cengis, Kalyon and Kolin Construction to build the Vlora airport, and that it would set up a special group to examine the technical aspects of the proposal. The three companies are part of the consortium that is building the multi-billion dollar airport that will partially launch operations by February 2018.

The infrastructure ministry says the airport will be a completely private investment, providing no details on the form of partnership. The investment will likely be made through a build-own-transfer concession, the same as the Tirana International Airport was upgraded in 2005 under a 20-year deal with the Albanian government.

“We are at an advanced stage on the launch of our national carrier. I believe we will create conditions for more competition and then lower prices,” Rama said at a TV interview earlier this week.

Prime Minister Rama has earlier unveiled the ‘Air Albania’ national carrier will initially connect Tirana to regional unserviced countries such as Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina and several Western Europe destinations.

Back in May 2017 at a meeting with the CEO of Turkish Airlines in Tirana, Prime Minister Edi Rama said he was optimistic that with the support of the Turkish government and President Erdogan, Albania would have its own ‘Red and Black’ national carrier, open up its second international regional airport in Vlora, and a smaller tourist airport in Saranda, southernmost Albania.

Turkish Airlines, whose 49 percent stake is held by the Turkish government, serves more than 275 destinations in five continents, being one of the fastest growing airlines.

Turkey is one of Albania’s strategic partners, top investors and main travel destinations.

Some 97,000 Albanians travelled to Turkey in the first 11 months of 2017, mostly on holiday to its tourist resorts, a 25 percent increase compared to the same period in the previous year, according to Turkey’s tourism ministry.

The Prime Minister has earlier blamed the expensive air transport situation in the country on the problematic concessionary deal Albania has with country’s sole international airport, preventing the entry of low-cost carriers.

Almost two years after lifting TIA’s exclusive rights on international flights in return for having its original 20-year concession contract extended by two years until 2027, Albania continues to have a sole international airport and one of the region’s highest ticket prices.

Due to expensive prices and low number of low-cost carriers, more and more Albanian passengers have been travelling through neighboring Kosovo, Macedonia or Montenegro airports in the past few years.

Some 17 airlines connect Tirana to European destinations, mostly Italy where most passengers fly considering an estimated community of some 500,000 Albanian migrants in the neighbouring country across the Adriatic.

The Tirana International Airport, which in October 2016 was taken over by a Chinese consortium, handled about 2.2 million passengers in 2016, being the country’s main hub.

Italian carriers have the major market share in Albania’s air transport industry following the bankruptcy of an Albanian-owned company in 2013.

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