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Looking beyond Brexit - inward investment to Poland

Kraków Airport sets out investment plan for next 20 years

By Natalia Vince, press officer, Kraków Airport
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In 2019, Kraków Balice Airport proudly welcomed its eight-millionth passenger with the hope that passenger numbers would keep on growing every month, and that the development of our airport will drive tourist traffic in the region. In 2019, Kraków Airport served nearly two million passengers flying to destinations in the UK alone, who could choose between 16 cities including Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Belfast, London and Glasgow, with five carriers: British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2.Com, Ryanair and Wizz Air.

However, 2020 brought about a reality that no one could have predicted even as a worst-case scenario. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kraków Airport handled only two and half million passengers – a 69% drop compared to 2019.

On 15 March, when the borders were closed and air traffic was suspended, we worked closely with the British Embassy in Warsaw. Only flights with a rescue flight status were operated from Kraków Airport, many British citizens were returning home and leaving our country safely despite the closed borders. In June 2020, passenger traffic was restored, first for domestic flights and then for air traffic within the internal borders of the EU.

From the beginning of this year, despite the low passenger traffic, Kraków Airport has been preparing to introduce new sanitary regulations. It was the first airport in Poland to receive the ACI Airport Health Accreditation. The Airports Council International accreditation proves that Kraków Airport remains at the forefront of the best airports in the world in ensuring the highest standards of passenger health and safety in the era of the pandemic. Surveys have shown that 90% of passengers positively assess the sanitary regulations introduced on Kraków Airport.
Industry-wide efforts to ensure travel safety, including sanitary measures, aim to develop uniform standards to help rebuild the air transport market and tourism after the pandemic. However, full or partial opening up of the tourism industry and effective dissemination of the vaccine are a prerequisite.

Independent studies by aviation organisations such as IATA and ACI have confirmed that passengers will be willing to use air travel after the pandemic situation has calmed down. Common international policy and regulations regarding the opening of borders to air travel are expected to help make this forecast come true.

Full automation of the passenger path is another guarantee of a post-pandemic return to flying. In the near future, airport infrastructure based on automated processes will be a standard. This modernisation is already taking place in our terminal. Self-Service Bag Drop (SBD) is a state-of-the-art solution to facilitate baggage drop-off by passengers. It is an innovative solution that allows fast and comfortable baggage handling before departure, avoiding direct passenger contact with airport personnel. The service is already used by passengers served by Ryanair and Wizz Air. Biometrically automated border-control gates will soon be installed on Kraków Airport, another step towards passenger path automation. They will be used for the automated check-in of passengers departing or arriving in the Schengen area, and for biometric passport-holders. This will improve passenger service, facilitate the work of border-control services and allow to maintain a sanitary distance. Regardless of the degree and scale of automated airport processes, they always need to be performed and supervised by qualified and efficient personnel.

In view of the significant scale of the ongoing losses for the city and the region, further investments will be an effective remedy for the crisis. The airport needs to be modernised because it is an effective instrument of economic development for the Małopolska province, which is why the strategic investment plans included in the master plan for the Kraków Balice Airport remain valid despite the biggest economic crisis in recent history. The airport, lying to the west of Kraków, is also used for military purposes.

In December 2020, the compinvestment plan for the international airport for 2020–2028, based on the Kraków master plan, which in turn has bany's governing bodies approved an een approved by the Minister of Infrastructure. Key investment tasks include construction of a new runway, expansion of the western part of the apron and expansion of the passenger terminal. In October 2020, Kraków Airport was granted a building permit for a new cargo building. Increased interest in air cargo transport is one of the side-effects of the pandemic. A bigger and more modern terminal will meet the requirements of cargo traffic and will allow for the traffic of cargo vehicles to be shifted away from the immediate surroundings of the passenger terminal. The tender to select the contractor for this investment was announced in late December. The objective of the passenger terminal expansion project is to improve its functionality and increase capacity, so that after the expansion, the passenger terminal will be able to handle 12 million passengers per year – the level of traffic forecast in the master plan.

Analysis of the current division into zones of the existing terminal has shown that the terminal needs to be expanded in three directions: northwards (the existing departure lounges), westwards (the Schengen zone) and eastwards (the non-Schengen zone and baggage-handling systems). Design work is currently under way.

The pandemic is not stopping investment activity in the region. Development of Kraków Airport means more jobs in the region and, most importantly, tourists returning to Kraków and Małopolska. Business, city break and pilgrimage travel will accelerate economic recovery of the region. It also facilitates the organisation of major international events, such as the 2023 European Games.

Airports have become the economic gateways of regions. Investment is all the more needed to make the airport a driving force behind our economy in these difficult times. Kraków Airport is the first regional airport to have an approved master plan which takes into account the impact of the new Solidarity Transport Hub in central Poland, as the plan was adopted after the decision to build the STH had been taken. The master plan is a strategy that sets out the direction of our development for at least two decades ahead. We are not withdrawing from those long-term strategic plans at this time of the biggest-ever crisis of the aviation industry, although we do need to take into account that implementation schedules of individual investments will have to be adjusted based on the forecast growth of passenger traffic.


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