The COVID-19 Aviation Impact On Bosnia And Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been hit hard by COVID-19, with passenger numbers plummeting over 70% this year compared to 2019. The fall is a particular blow because Bosnia’s airports started the year with double-digit growth. Let’s take a look at how the airports in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, and Mostar have fared in this aviation crisis.

FlyBosnia A319
FlyBosnia, the flag carrier of Bosnia and Herzegovina, does not have a single aircraft anymore. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia

Passenger numbers fall 71%

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Directorate of Civil Aviation reports that the country has registered a 71% fall in passenger traffic between January and August of this year, compared to the same period in 2019.

Just under 400,000 passengers passed through Bosnia’s airports in the first eight months of 2020, compared to over 1,3 million in the first eight months of 2019. In comparison, Europe’s largest airport, Heathrow, saw a 60% passenger drop in the first half of this year.

Let’s take a look at the impact that the COVID-19 lockdown and a string of route cancelations had on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s four airports one by one.

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Sarajevo Airport (SJJ)

The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina recorded 78% fewer passengers between January and September 2020 compared to the same period last year. The fall is made worse by the fact that last year was the best on record for Sarajevo, largely thanks to FlyBosnia launching as a startup airline with a base there in early 2019.

Sarajevo started the year with almost 10% growth in January, and was looking to grow at this rate across all the months of 2020. FlyBosnia intended to pursue a major network expansion, with flights to destinations like Zurich and Moscow in the pipeline for this year.

However, due to airport closures and a major slump in demand due to both health fears and travel restrictions imposed on Bosnia and Herzegovina as a non-EU state, this growth quickly turned negative. Sarajevo had just under 400 passengers in all of May, which is a staggeringly small number for an airport serving a European capital city.

The upcoming winter is looking bleak too: most airlines serving Sarajevo have opted for a major decrease in capacity, or will operate flights only during the Christmas months. Still, Sarajevo can count on Croatia Airlines, Lufthansa, Air Serbia, Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airlines, flyDubai, and Austrian Airlines to provide connectivity for all of this winter.

Austrian Airlines
Austrian Airlines will offer the best connectivity out of Sarajevo with nine weekly flights. Photo: Getty Images

Tuzla Airport (TZL)

Other airports in the country fared better. Tuzla Airport, the stronghold of Wizz Air, saw only a 59% drop in passengers between January and September 2020. Tuzla saw 190,000 passengers in this period. In comparison, in all of 2019 it recorded just under 600,000.

This relatively small fall was recorded because Wizz Air pursued an aggressive strategy during the late spring and early summer months, to capture markets left vacant by the airlines that suspended flights and grounded their fleets.

Even as winter approaches, Wizz Air still intends to maintain eight routes out of Tuzla, which is an impressive number for this relatively small European town.

Banja Luka Airport (BNX)

Banja Luka Airport also fared better than the capital city airport of Sarajevo. Banja Luka recorded 37,500 passengers in the first eight months of 2020, which is a fall of 62% compared to 2019.

The airport used to be a Ryanair stronghold, with a network of five destinations out of the city. This has been cut to just a single route this winter, between Banja Luka and Gothenburg. Air Serbia will also fly to Belgrade from Banja Luka, twice weekly.

Ryanair, Load Factor, Refunds
Banja Luka is almost exclusively served by Ryanair. Photo: Getty Images

Mostar Airport (OMO)

Worst affected of all is Bosnia’s smallest airport, Mostar Airport. The airport saw a fall of 96% between January and August 2020, and is on track to record less than 1,000 passengers in all of 2020. This is a major drop in comparison to last year’s 33,000.

In fact, Mostar Airport did not see a single passengers in the months of April, May, June, or even July, and there were only 76 passengers there in August. The airport has lost both Croatia Airlines, which flew between Mostar and Zagreb twice weekly, and FlyBosnia, which flew between Rome and Mostar once weekly. It does not have a single scheduled passenger service for all of winter 2020/2021.

Do you think there is a future for airlines like FlyBosnia? Is it a viable strategy to aim for eight aircraft? Let us know what you think of this story in the comments below.