Centralwings’ Kwiatkowski – battling in a crowded Polish market

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Maciej Kwiatkowski has been in the hot seat at centralwings since the beginning of July, replacing Piotr Kociolek who resigned in March. He already has no doubt as to what he sees as the main challenge faced by the Polish low-cost carrier – Polish airports.

These, he says, are inefficient, expensive and lacking good staff. Warsaw, in particular, comes in for criticism. “It is overpriced. We have had offers from other Polish airports and would move if the deal was good,” he insists.

Kwiatkowski says the carrier is considering relocating its base to a city west of Warsaw, such as Krakow or Poznan, “where we can enjoy the low-cost fees”. This decision represents “the most important step for our strategy moving forward”, he says.

The carrier – low-fares arm of Polish flag carrier LOT – began service in February 2005. It serves routes from its main base at Warsaw Okecie airport to various European destinations using nine Boeing 737-300 and -400 aircraft from the LOT fleet. It also flies out of Katowice, Krakow and Wroclaw

Kwiatkowski says he plans to spend the rest of this year addressing cost reduction issues and building a base for “a big strategy” for the airline in the coming years.

This strategy includes adding more routes to its network in 2007, with the UK and Ireland forming the carrier’s “number one markets”, followed by France and Italy. Centralwings will also avoid launching routes already operated by parent company LOT, says Kwiatkowski. The carrier no longer operates any routes flown by LOT because the Polish flag carrier “was not happy” about competing, something centralwings will “take into consideration for future routes”, he says.

However, he cites the example of Warsaw-Milan, where centralwings withdrew from the market because it was going head to head with LOT. Shortly afterwards another low-cost carrier moved in. “Surely it is better to have a low-cost ally than a low-cost enemy,” he reasons. “We need to talk more.”

Kwiatkowski admits that competition is getting “tougher and tougher”, particularly from fellow central European budget carriers SkyEurope and Wizz Air. “There is no question there will be strong competition, mainly in Poland,” says Kwiatkowski.

He believes low-cost airlines are now competing with each other rather than with legacy carriers. “Traffic is being created by and consumed by low-cost carriers,” he says.

“One of our strong sides is our good relationship with cities – Polish cities are interested in attracting low-cost carriers because the development of regions is strongly connected with the introduction of low-cost flights,” he says.

Despite the highly competitive nature of the low-cost market in eastern Europe, Kwiatkowski says he is confident the carrier can become profitable in 2008.

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