Sterling tests Malmo as alternative to Copenhagen

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Danish budget carrier Sterling is considering shifting some of its operations from its Copenhagen base to Malmo Sturup in a bid to reduce costs as carriers using the Danish capital hub step up pressure over airport charges.

Sterling has already been testing the potential of Malmo through a single route to the Spanish resort of Alicante. It argues that using Malmo is potentially more economical and that the road bridge connection between Copenhagen and Malmo means the Swedish airport is a realistic alternative to the Danish hub.

Sterling commercial director Stefan Vilner says the carrier will seriously consider transferring several other routes to Malmo if the passenger loads prove strong enough.

“We’re looking at Alicante as a testing ground,” says Vilner. “If it works well we’ll look at the traffic patterns. But we’re not going to pull out of Copenhagen because the market is too big to ignore.”

Sterling and Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) have each expressed dismay at Copenhagen’s charges as the airport’s operator, Kobenhavns Lufthavne, seeks to reach a new agreement over fees. The present three-year agreement expires at the end of 2005.

Kobenhavns Lufthavne chief executive Niels Boserup tells ATI that the airport is suffering from a drop in transfer traffic and wants to abolish its current charging scheme – which includes a transfer-passenger rebate – in favour of adopting a simpler, per-departure charge.

“We want to remove the transfer rebate because it’s not working,” he says, pointing out that transfer traffic accounts for only a third of passengers at Copenhagen.

Boserup says that the airport is in the “lower half” of European airports regarding charges, adding that its strong profitability is down to its low operating costs. He claims that a change in its charging structure would benefit carriers.

Scandinavian Airlines benefits strongly from the transfer-passenger rebate and chief executive Jorgen Lindegaard says that the airport’s strategy is “not supporting” the carrier.

He says: “We’re in discussions about whether [Copenhagen] should support point-to-point or transfer [traffic]. For SAS as a network carrier transfer traffic is important – but it’s pretty much up to Copenhagen to decide what sort of traffic it supports.”

While Malmo is being viewed as a possible alternative by Sterling, Lindegaard says that SAS remains focused on primary airports and that it is not intending to abandon Copenhagen. But he adds: “If our competition on point-to-point is building out of Malmo then we will have to do the same.

“We will not announce anything publicly as long as we’re in discussions with Copenhagen Airport. We would hope that we would not be forced, threatened or obliged to move.”