Croatia Airlines In A Regional Expansion: New Routes To Sofia, Tirana and Podgorica

Croatia Airlines has confirmed to Croatian newspaper Večernji List that it is planning to expand its route network this year, after it launched no new routes in 2019. The Croatian media is reporting that three regional destinations are on the table: Sofia in Bulgaria, Tirana in Albania, and Podgorica in Montenegro. Why is Croatia looking to expand in the region?

Croatia Airlines is planning to expand its regional route network this year. Photo: Croatia Airlines

The current state of Croatia Airlines

Croatia Airlines is the national airline and flag carrier of Croatia, but is currently in the process of being privatized. The Croatian government has set aside significant funds to cover Croatia’s operational losses to make it more appealing to potential buyers.

Simple Flying previously published a trip report about a Croatia Airlines flight between London Heathrow and its base in Zagreb.

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The planned expansion – Podgorica

The destinations planned for expansion for summer 2020 are Sofia in Bulgaria, Tirana in Albania, and Podgorica in Montenegro.

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Croatia Airlines previously operated flights between Zagreb and Podgorica, but discontinued them in 2012. This was during a period of several years of cuts in frequencies and discontinuations of routes.

The main airline at Podgorica Airport is Montenegro Airlines, the country’s flag carrier. It too, like Croatia Airlines, will be given considerable financial assistance from its government to cover its operational losses.

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Croatia Airlines parked at Heathrow
Croatia Airlines flies to Heathrow only four times weekly after it sold five slot pairs there two years ago. Photo: Jakov Fabinger, Simple Flying

The planned expansion – Sofia and Tirana

If Croatia Airlines launches flights to Sofia in Bulgaria, this will be with the strong intention for this route to feed Croatia’s domestic and European network.

The transfer traffic originating in Sofia would likely predominately be channeled to the Croatian coast. At present, there is not a single flight from Sofia to any of Croatia’s eight international airports. Passengers from Sofia or the rest of Bulgaria wishing to fly to Croatia must transfer through Air Serbia’s hub in Belgrade, Nikola Tesla Airport.

This is not much of an inconvenience since Air Serbia is significantly expanding its network and flies an impressively strong schedule to Croatia’s coastal airports in the summer. But Croatia Airlines is now eyeing a piece of that market share.

The intention behind launching flights to Tirana will be the same. Croatia Airlines flies to almost all of the Croatian coastal airports in the summer: Pula, Brač, Dubrovnik, Split and Zadar. Passengers from Albania presently have access to none of them by air, just like passengers from Sofia don’t.

Croatia Airlines will hope to capture some of the unserved market demand from transfer passengers that used to fly with Adria Airways. Photo: Croatia Airlines

Fallout from Adria Airways?

All these three destinations previously had a strong presence by Adria Airways up until the Slovenian airline collapsed in 2019.

In Sofia, Adria Airways used to fly three times weekly. The timing of these services intentionally connected Sofia to Adria’s European network, particularly onto the Star Alliance hubs.

In Podgorica, Adria Airways had 11 weekly services in summer 2018, and in Tirana, it had a double daily flight to Ljubljana.

Also in Tirana, Adria Airways operated three weekly flights to Munich and three weekly to Frankfurt. These were code-shared by Lufthansa, which meant that with the collapse of Adria, Tirana lost a total of 20 weekly connections to various European and transcontinental destinations.

This leaves all three routes, but especially Tirana, as very fruitful ground for Croatia Airlines. But will transfer demand prove profitable?

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