A Look At Warsaw’s Planned $10 Billion Superhub Airport

Warsaw Chopin Airport is nearing capacity, and with massive year on year growth in passenger numbers, Poland want to build a new airport. Warsaw Solidarity Airport will not start operating flights until 2027 and will require an investment of $10bn to make it a reality. We take a look at the plans, and why Poland needs such a big superhub airport.

LOT polish
The new airport would be a hub for LOT Polish Airlines. Photo: Dutchaviationphotos via Flickr

Warsaw are planning a new airport, and not just any airport. The plans slated to be implemented are for a $10bn project, handling 45 million passengers a year with the ability to grow to 100 million in the future.

Part of the reason for the big idea is to help LOT Polish Airlines to reach their goal of tripling passenger numbers and developing their long haul services to Asia and the US. Their CEO is reported by Bloomberg as saying,

“Central Europe needs a proper aviation hub. We are going to be part of planning it and building it.”

Why is a new airport needed?

Currently, passengers from central and eastern Europe have to transit through western Europe to connect to longer flights. Hubs at Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt are most often used, making the majority of long haul destinations at least a one stop itinerary. According to CAPA, there are 62 airports in western Europe with direct flights to long haul destinations, and only 16 in central and eastern Europe.

Most of the long haul connections are in Moscow, with Sheremetyevo having the greatest number of short to long haul connections in the region. For passengers who don’t want to leave Europe to fly, Warsaw boasts the greatest number of long haul connections, mostly operated by LOT Polish.

The CEECs. Image: Mapchart.net

The new airport hub will enable passengers from Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) to fly direct from Poland to almost anywhere in the world. The CEECs are the highest growth region for passenger traffic in Europe, with Slovenia and Estonia recording the highest passenger growth of 20% and 19% respectively over the course of 2017.

Warsaw airport itself recorded the highest growth in all over Europe over 2017, with passenger numbers increasing 23%. However, despite huge growth, the airport is still one of the smallest in Europe, handling around 15 million a year. It’s maximum capacity is just 20 million, and it is predicted to reach this capacity within the next four years.

Clearly, to sustain the growth being experienced in the region, a new and bigger airport is needed.

Plans for Solidarity Airport

The plans for Solidarity Airport – Central Transport Hub (Port Solidarność – Centralny Port Komunikacyjny in Polish) involve not just airport construction, but also infrastructure improvements too. As the airport will be located around 40km from Warsaw, it will require reconfiguration and extension of Poland’s Rail network to provide connections.

Roads will also need to be improved, and a new city is even being proposed to neighbor the new airport. Once complete, the airport would replace Warsaw’s existing Chopin airport, with all functions transferred to Solidarity.

The new airport at Baranów will cover 3000 hectares. Image: Wikimedia

The airport is reported to require an investment of around 35bn zloty ($9.2bn) to build. Including the infrastructure improvements takes this cost up to $16bn or more. Construction is slated to begin in 2021, with a planned completion date of 2027. When complete, the airport will be able to handle as many as 45 million passengers a year.

Even after flights begin in 2027, Poland hope to add more phases to the development to increase capacity. Over the years, new runways and terminals will be constructed to take the airport to a maximum capacity of 100 million passengers a year.

The decision to endorse the project was made in 2017, with government ratification in May last year. However, criticism of the project has been rife. Some fear that the closure of Chopin airport will damage Warsaw’s economy, and the local residents who will face compulsory purchase orders for their homes and land are, predictably, not on board either.

Which airlines will use Solidarity Airport?

Homegrown airline and flag carrier, LOT Polish, will undoubtedly be one of the major carriers to operate from Warsaw’s new airport. Currently Europe’s 19th largest airline by passenger number, LOT project they will transport nine million passengers this year.

However, they’re not the only airport who will be keen to have a base in Solidarity. Both Wizz and Ryanair transport more passengers to and from Poland that LOT. Ryanair in particular have been reported by Bloomberg as having plans to increase passenger numbers in Poland, with a target of 12.5 million by the end of this year.

Ryanair aircraft on apron.
Ryanair want to increase services to Poland. Photo: Ryanair.

However, boss of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, is less than impressed with the plans. He is reported as saying that it will be nothing more than a “big new shiny cathedral in the middle of nowhere” and that “It’s a stupid plan… It’s a kind of plan that only politicians and civil servants could come up with.”

What do you think? Are Poland right to look to a new megahub style airport built from scratch, or should they be looking to expand existing airports such as Chopin instead?