By Keith Mwanalushi 

Budapest Airport (BUD) in Hungary is planning for a surge in summer travel and airlines are making every effort to bring new capacity and additional frequencies to meet the projected demand. 

In 2023, BUD passenger numbers reached 14.7 million – a 91% return to pre-pandemic levels and full post-pandemic recovery is expected by the end of the year. Operators are ramping up schedules and launching several new routes in a bid to meet high season demand. 

Prior to the pandemic, BUD implemented a long-term, and successful route development strategy that resulted in an all-time traffic peak of 16.2 million passengers in 2019. The plan scrutinised all areas like route development, business mixes and long-haul capacity, and it served as a good base to start working on the recovery, according to Máté Ritter, BUD’s head of airline development.

“We’ve had no home carrier since 2012, so we designed [by-default] an airport charges and incentive scheme to reward growth from carriers. So, after the pandemic, our commercial strategy could then accommodate the business needs of the market more easily,” Ritter tells FINN. 

BUD serves more than 130 cities by 41 air carriers and this summer several airlines are adding capacity. Ryanair is adding six new routes to Milan (MXP), Tirana, Faro, Frankfurt (Hahn), Trieste and Skiathos and increasing frequencies on 26 existing routes including Malaga, Sofia, Berlin, Pisa, and Birmingham.

Wizz Air plans to add Brasov, Brussels, Bucharest, Chisinau, Stuttgart, Valencia, Yerevan to the BUD network and increase frequencies on 10 current services, like Rome, Basel, Athens, Madrid, Malta, and Nice.

Meanwhile, easyJet is increasing operations to Basel and Geneva. It will also restart it’s routing between BUD and Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport (LYS) in France. The year-round service will be operated twice-weekly, starting on 21 August 2024. easyJet previously operated the BUD-LYS route pre-pandemic (2019/2020), with an annual seat capacity of almost 50,000. Following the relaunch, Budapest Airport anticipates an initial 38,000 annual seats, while high historic load factors suggest demand will drive increasing frequencies, possibly as early as next year. 

“We are delighted to welcome the resumption of easyJet’s BUD-LYS service,” says Ritter. “The launch of a new French route is very timely and responds well to the trend of increasing tourism demand from France. In 2023, even without a direct route, there were 22,000 two-way transfer passengers travelling from LYS to BUD, making it one of BUD’s largest indirect city-pairs in Europe and it’s a popular route in both directions.”

The airport has seen a significant expansion of non-stop scheduled seat capacity by over 30% to key global markets beyond Europe, including China, the Middle East, and North Africa.

China is a typical example of a growth market. Shanghai Airlines, in partnership with China Eastern Airlines, will reinstate services from Xi’an for the summer season commencing on June 29 marking the sixth Chinese destination operated into Budapest. 

From June 21, Hainan Airlines will start a non-stop year-round route from Shenzhen to Budapest, with two weekly services using B787s. 

China Southern Airlines will also launch a brand new four-times weekly flight to Guangzhou, using B787s from June 27th. Sources at BUD suggest capacity to China this summer will reach historic highs.  

Facing industry challenges 

Certainly, the aviation industry is still facing global challenges that persist in the supply chain for instance, hyperinflation issues to geopolitical instabilities.

Air fares in Europe are expected to rise by 5-10% this summer, according to recent predictions by Ryanair boss Micheal O’Leary, mainly due to aircraft availability issues by the OEMs and of course, the much-publicised technical reliability problems from engine manufacturers that have impacted operators like Wizz Air and others. 

OEM-related issues could therefore expose BUD to potential impacts on route development, but Ritter thinks airlines are working around the clock to mitigate those challenges – “One of the airlines with the engine issue, introduced a commercial programme with a 20% seat capacity increase in summer 2024 compared to the same period last year and also the Irish-origin low fare operator serving us will have two more aircraft based here this summer.”

Ritter reckons these traffic developments are a justification of the agility of BUD, and the solid commercial strategy, that he feels provides certainty for airlines and the business. 

Infrastructure developments 

The airport launched a major development programme in spring 2019, and over the past five years, the value of airport developments has exceeded 130 billion HUF (Euro337million).

Ritter reports that in the last few years, significant resources have been invested in developing existing infrastructure in the terminals, like increasing security screening capacity, introducing self-bag drop-off counters, adding more check-in counters and parking capacity. A second airport hotel, in front of the terminal, is also being built with a target completion in 2025, he reveals. 

Additionally, there are plans to build a new Terminal 3 and Ritter believes it will be one of the largest construction projects in the history of BUD, in terms of volume and complexity, and it will enable future growth for the long term. 

Planning ahead

It appears to be a stellar year for airport, fresh from winning major accolades at the Routes Europe 2024 Awards in Aarhus, Denmark and its 11th Skytrax ‘Best Airport in Eastern Europe’ trophy. 

These achievements certainly highlight the vision and commitment to provide increased and convenient connectivity from the airport, but like other gateways, it will need to continue adapting to external influences. 

For instance, the EU is planning a bunch of new rules that will affect non-EU citizens travelling to most EU countries. These are the EU Entry/Exit System (EES) which is an automated system for registering travellers from the UK and other non-EU countries each time they cross an EU external border. The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), a travel authorisation to enter the EU for citizens of non-EU countries that do not require a visa to enter the EU.

Some industry observers are suggesting these new schemes that require for non-EU nationals to provide fingerprints and obtain a travel authorisation to enter the EU zone might impact growth from some non-EU markets, especially if there is cost implication for travellers.  

No doubt, many of Europe’s growing gateways, like BUD will be watching developments closely. 
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