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Bulgarian Airports register impressive passenger growth


Although in the European Union as early as 2007, it is only very recently that growth rates for passenger numbers have broken the record books in Bulgaria. Before E.U. accession in the period 1999-2007, passenger numbers increased from over to two million to over 6 million (figures for Sofia, Varna, and Burgas airports; the important ones in the country).
However less impressive returns in recent years have been confounded by the figures for 2016, which saw a 14% increase in passengers in Sofia airport (for Jan-August).Burgas and Varna surpassed this performance with 23.3% and 21% respectively. Indeed in the summer months, Burgas welcomes more passengers than Sofia.
A lot of demand for flights to Bulgaria is tourism driven. These fall broadly into two groups:
  • Summer Tourism to the Black Sea coastline, Varna and Burgas are situated on the Black Sea Coast. Varna serves most of the Northern part of the coast and Burgas the Southern section. Bulgaria has a very long coastline with miles of sandy beaches, that were known as the Red Riviera in communist times. Figures show that after a significant drop in tourist numbers since the financial crash of 2008, visitors have returned in great numbers, mainly from Russia, Germany, Poland, and the U.K. It will be of interest to discover how recent terrorist incidents in Tunisia and Egypt reshape the regional tourism market. Bulgaria, and even crisis hit Greece, showed definite signs of tourists looking away from the North African destinations and switching to safer, but nonetheless similar, places.
  • Winter Tourism. Bulgaria is blessed like several southern European countries with ski resorts, as well as coastline. The ski resorts are located in the West of the country and are served by Sofia and Plovdiv airports. There is significant interest from UK, Greek, and Turkish visitors. Budget airline Jet2 is operating winter flights from Manchester to Sofia to cope with the demand, it is also the main reason for Ryan Air's Plovdiv service.
The real underlying trend is that Bulgaria's airports experienced a 6% increase in the number of airlines, and even more interestingly a 16% increase in destinations.
It should also be pointed out that the number of Bulgarians working in other parts of Europe has grown exponentially since joining the EU.This trend is driving surging demand for flights to the U.K., Germany, Italy and Spain, as migrants travel back and forth and relatives come to visit. The same trend can be seen, for example, in Bulgaria's northern neighbor Romania.
Here we have to consider the influence of the Budget airlines on the Bulgarian aviation market.Budget airlines operate from all of Bulgaria's main airports plus Plovdiv (Ryanair).
Ryan Air started operating its 83rd hub, inSofia, in September 2016 and Wizzair will run a center from Varna from June 2017. Easyjet has a significant presence in Sofia serving Luton, Stansted and Gatwick airports and has just announced a Gatwick-Varna service from June 2017.
Figures, up to September 2016, show that Bulgaria Air was the top airline in Sofia serving 122 destinations, Wizzair 107 and Ryanair 70.With such intense competition, it remains to be seen how long Bulgaria Air can stay at the head of the market.
Wizzair commences an internal Sofia-Varna service in March 2016, and Ryan Air just announced a new Varna-Brussels (Charleroi) service from Varna (it's first from that airport) starting in October 2017. New destinations from Varna include Munich Memmingen, Eindhoven,Larnaca and Milan.
One recent rumor has been that the military airport at Gorna Oriahovitsa (just outside the ancient city of Veliko Turnovo in Northern Bulgaria) has been slated to be developed as a commercial airport, with budget airlines interested. The location, halfway between Sofia and Varna, and close to the Romanian border, could provide an alternative to Bucharest airport (which is an hour from the Bulgarian border).
Turkish Airlines operate a Varna-Istanbul daily flight and a Sofia-Istanbul flight, which opens up the possibility of connections to Asia and the United States.
Regarding long-haul, there are currently no direct routes from the U.S.A/Canada, but the airline BH has been applying for licenses to fly from Sofia to New York, Chicago, and Toronto. As yet nothing concrete has come of this, but www.paylessflights.com will be the first to tell you of any developments.