After the Vilnius Airport closed for reconstruction, airline passengers have expressed surprise over flawless service and smooth procedures in Kaunas.
Some have even begun musing that after an excellent performance Kaunas could become the main airport for the country, however Lietuvos Oro Uostai general director Gediminas Almantas states that such plans are not on the table at the moment.
Meanwhile the president of the National Tourism Business Association, head of the Estravel Vilnius travel agency Žydrė Gavelienė told Delfi that during the reconstruction period there will be 40% fewer tourists in Lithuania.
"We wait and hope that all will end well," she commented.
Fewer passengers, more staff
"We can definitely praise everyone's work with the transfer of a larger airport's traffic to a smaller one – everything appears to proceed very smoothly," Small Planet Airlines marketing head Simonas Bartkus commented on his blog simonas.bartkus.lt.
However he raised the question of how many places on airplanes were not transferred from Vilnius to Kaunas.
"Ryanair did not move its traffic to Kaunas and Belavia decided to suspend flights for the period, but there are also other manoeuvres. For example Wizz Air transferred three aircraft of four to Kaunas and also silently snuffed out the plan to send an Airbus A321 to Lithuania. It was planned for July 21, but now the plan is postponed to mid-September," S. Bartkus wrote.
He calculated that due to the transfer Lithuania has lost around 32% of its supply or that 38% of chairs were not transferred from Vilnius to Kaunas.
Commenting on S. Bartkus' observations, D. Voveris firstly stressed that he features passengers, not places in his calculations.
"When we were planning the project, we evaluated that in Kaunas we will have 15-20% fewer passengers. Based on the most recent statistics, this is the case. The passenger traffic in Kaunas, compared with the same period last year in Vilnius has decreased around 17%.
Last years both airports serviced around 14.5 thousand passengers per day, now we have up to 12 thousand," the Lietuvos Oro Uostai representative commented.
D. Voveris added that that he is currently observing a daily increase in passenger counts.
"This could be linked with good responses about Kaunas. We have a premise that we cannot test that people, seeing good reviews, are overcoming concerns over the temporary infrastructure and are simply beginning to purchase tickets," he said.
D. Voveris said that Kaunas Airport has been working even better than he hoped.
"We understood that for people the Kaunas infrastructure will be temporary, unknown, there will be more stress. The airport is overall a location where people experience more stress. Due to this we dedicated much attention to preparing our staff, their motivation. We ensured that there would be a maximum amount of staff at the airport and that they would be ready to help," he stated, explaining that the regular staff of Kaunas airport was boosted by a further 200 from Vilnius.
"The most specific, most important for passengers functions are left to them. This way the staff is well rested, more focused and more concentrated on the passenger," D. Voveris said.
To add to this staffing, he stated, there are also a further 150 temporary hires, whose functions are varied, but also directed to assisting passengers.
"Of course the good mood in Kaunas is also created by Lietuvos Oro Uostai administrative staff, who travel to work there voluntarily in their free time, interact with passengers and provide information.
When we add together all this staff, we have a massive amount compared to the number of passengers. This allows that good atmosphere to be created," the Lietuvos Oro Uostai representative said.
He added that free transportation for staff travelling from Vilnius is ensured.
"We provide them with breakfast on the bus (coffee, sandwiches), also ensure their catering in Kaunas. We believe that a happy employee will emanate their positive energy to passengers. We can see this has certainly been paying off," D. Voveris said.
Transferred for more than a month?
As Swedbank chief economist Nerijus Mačiulis noticed, the transfer of airport traffic to Kaunas proceeded fairly smoothly, even praised by the residents of Vilnius. Due to this he suggested, half seriously, to make Kaunas Airport the country's main airport for more than a month.
"It is no secret that Vilnius Airport's development capacity is limited – it is surrounded by residential areas, large aircraft are hampered by the no-fly zone over Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant.
Furthermore the constant flow of landing airplanes just over Vilnius residents' heads is exhausting and is likely unpleasant. Thus it is hard to expect that airplanes will ever fly to San Francisco or Fortaleza from this airport," the economist wrote on his Facebook profile.
N. Mačiulis stated that Kaunas Airport is much more suited for it, furthermore aircraft are not landing above any densely populated regions and also being in the centre of Lithuania it is more accessible for the inhabitants of smaller cities and towns.
"It is something of a discomfort for Vilnius residents, but this problem will be fully solved by the branch of Rail Baltica which will not only link Vilnius and Kaunas, but will also allow Karmėlava Airport to be reached from Vilnius within 15 minutes. Potential appears to not only take over a significant portion of the market occupied by Riga Airport, but to also see regular transatlantic flights," he said.
Nevertheless G. Almantas points out that the current transfer of aviation is a temporary solution, intended only for the period of the Vilnius airport runway reconstruction.
"The infrastructure, processes and other resources are temporary, planned only for this period. Kaunas Airport could not operate this way during neither autumn, nor winter, nor spring. With the rapidly increasing passenger traffic in Lithuania, there would be need for significant investment into the infrastructure of Kaunas Airport, as well as its accessibility by rail and road transport," the Lietuvos Oro Uostai representative commented.
Awaiting it to end
Ž. Gavelienė commented that the Kaunas airport faces very different expectations than a standard airport.
"We understand it is temporary," she said, "It is natural that for now everything is working fine, it is to be celebrated that there have been no surprises. We are definitely not hearing any complaints from passengers."
She also added that the discomfort factor for Vilnius residents remains, thus they are awaiting the end of the reconstruction and hope everything will conclude fine.
"Tourist flows have decreased, but travel organisers already felt it 3 or even 9 months ago when we began planning.
Furthermore when we advertise it is easy to reach the town centre from the airport, our clients have high expectations. Now we have to tell them it will be a one and a half hour trip to Vilnius. We are planning for 40% fewer tourists," Ž. Gavelienė said.
G. Almantas said that with the end of Vilnius Airport runway reconstructions in a few weeks, the three main Lithuanian airports – Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga – will resume normal operation.
"We will continue to aim for increased passenger traffic in all three airports," he added.
Meanwhile D. Voveris told Delfi that reconstruction works in Vilnius are proceeding smoothly.
"Currently we have laid the first two of four runway layers, beginning on the third. We already have completed the electrical wiring, rain runoff systems are nearing completion," he explained.
Vilnius Airport is to resume operation on August 18.
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