Lithuania’s Minister of Transport and Communications Rokas Masiulis has revealed plans by the nation to build a megahub airport. The plans have come about as Lithuania’s main airport at Vilnius has experienced a marked rise in traffic, particularly from widebody aircraft.
Lithuania is contemplating building a new international airport to cope with forecast demand. In an interview with local news agency Delfi, Lithuania’s Minister of Transport and Communications Rokas Masiulis said,
“Lithuanian airports have been facing increasing passenger flows in recent years. If the trend is to continue, a new airport might be built in the country.”
The new airport would relieve traffic at already overcrowded Vilnius and Lithuania’s second city Kaunas. The idea has been floated in response to the increasing aviation traffic and demand in and around Eastern Europe.
A new airport for Lithuania
According to CAPA, Masiulis is looking at a central location somewhere in between the country’s two main airports. Kaunas and Vilnius are just 57 miles apart, making a central location ideal for travel into both cities with less than 30 miles in either direction.
Vilnius is the busiest airport in the country, serving almost five million passengers last year. Kaunas is much quieter, with through traffic of slightly more than one million in 2018. However, Kaunas is growing fast, and in May 2019 experienced its busiest month to date, with more than 100,000 passengers passing through its doors.
Although a good deal of expansion work is going on at Vilnius, there is nothing planned at Kaunas as yet. However, despite the ramping up of passenger traffic over recent years, Lithuania is still well below its potential for tourist visitors. As such, a new airport may well be justified.
A potential site, as noted by CAPA, is Elektrėnai, which is roughly equidistant from the two cities. It’s also close to the main highway and rail line, although CAPA comment that a high-speed link to both cities would be needed.
If plans go ahead, the new airport could be built as soon as 2035.
Widebodies to Vilnius have grown tenfold
Over the space of just two years, the number of widebody arrivals at Vilnius has increased tenfold. In 2017, just eight large aircraft landed at the airport, whereas in 2018 that number was 152. Among the arrivals last year were A330s, the Boeing 767, the A340 and the Queen of the skies herself, the Boeing 747.
The Head of Vilnius Airport Dainius Čiuplys, told Baltic Times that,
“The fact that during nearly half of the current year we have serviced about 100 large aircraft shows that we perform reliable tasks properly and smoothly. The service of large aircrafts is much more complex than of those that usually land at our airports, thus, it is important that we also earn trust of these air carriers”
He notes that the airport is not particularly set up to handle mass arrivals of widebody aircraft, pointing out that they often take up parking spaces intended for several smaller jets. He continued,
“… we have very limited opportunities to react flexibly to changes in the planning of operations on the platform or changes in aircraft schedules. When the current platform of Vilnius Airport was built, there was no need to install parking lots intended for larger aircrafts. Today, however, the situation has changed radically”
As such, Vilnius airport is crying out for reconstruction to better handle these types of jets. Recently, a tendering process has been launched to upgrade the Northern part of the apron, to make it more capable of handling higher traffic, including widebody planes. Čiuplys separately told Delft that,
“With an increasing number of passengers and large aircraft at the same time, it has become of critical importance to effectively use all possibilities of the infrastructure, and this has become very difficult considering the current condition of the apron. Larger aircraft which have been arriving at our airport increasingly more often raise serious challenges in integrating them into the existing infrastructure, therefore changes are necessary”
The investments in Vilnius are earmarked to be completed by the end of 2021, requiring the investment of around €17.3m ($19.4m) and come hot on the heels of a runway upgrade that cost the airport €19m ($21.3m).
However, there’s only so much that can be done to upgrade an existing airport. As demand for travel to Lithuania increases, the construction of a massive hub airport may be a great move for the nation, encouraging more carriers and improving links to east and west.