Budapest eyes Canada’s Air Transat for long-haul restoration

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Budapest airport is holding talks with Canada's Air Transat over the possible introduction of seasonal flights from Toronto to the Hungarian capital, says Kam Jandu, executive director of aviation at the gateway.

The airport lost its two long-haul connections to New York and Beijing last year, when the collapse of flag carrier Malev prompted American Airlines and Hainan Airlines to pull their respective intercontinental services.

Speaking to Flightglobal at the Routes Europe conference in Budapest, Jandu says Air Transat is now assessing "aircraft availability" and that he is "optimistic" scheduled flights to Toronto will begin in summer 2014.

"They're looking to perhaps combine it with another one or two destinations in central Europe," he says. "So leisure travellers can get open-jaw tickets, coming into one destination, for example Budapest, and flying out of another, for example Vienna."

The Hungarian gateway has made no secret of its desire to restore a direct link with New York, but Jandu admits that while there is strong demand among passengers, there is currently "not as much interest" among operators.

Budapest airport is meanwhile holding preliminary discussions with China Eastern Airlines, he confirms, with Beijing remaining "high on our list of target destinations".

But he says that Hainan retains the designation for the Beijing-Budapest route, meaning that China's civil aviation authorities need to amend the current allocation. "Hainan made it clear they do not intend to fly the route," he notes.

Early-stage talks are also being held with Romania's Tarom and Carpatair, with a view to using Budapest as a fifth-freedom hub through which to connect markets in Romania and possibly Ukraine with western Europe.

However, talk of developing Budapest into a major central European hub is off the agenda for now, Jandu confirms, saying: "I do not see a new national Hungarian airline setting up a hub here."