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Kosice airport braces for hit from Wizz base closure

Kosice airport is expecting its traffic figures this year to be hit by Wizz Air's decision to close its base there and cut three of its four routes from the Slovakian gateway.

Speaking to FlightGlobal at the Connect conference in Tbilisi on 20 February, the airport's chief executive Michael Tmej said the airport faced losing 70,000 passengers as a result of the budget carrier's rethink.

The airport grew passenger numbers 13% last year, to 496,000.

Earlier this month ,Wizz disclosed its intention to end flights from Kosice to German city Cologne, Tel Aviv in Israel and the UK's Doncaster Sheffield on 14 May and to withdraw the single Airbus A320 it has based at the Slovakian airport. However, a service to London Luton will be retained.

At the time, the airline said the route closures were a result of "changing customer demand". However, Tmej asserts that load factor on the route to Doncaster Sheffield averaged more than 90% last year.

He suggests that the decision may have been prompted by Wizz's need to reassign aircraft to its Luton base because it must use slots acquired from Monarch or risk losing them.

Tmej believes that the Kosice decision fits a pattern of closing bases at which a single aircraft is stationed, citing Lublin in Poland as another example.

"We try to replace now whatever is possible, but it is very late [in the season] now," he says.

The "ideal solution" would involve a carrier stepping in on all the routes, says Tmej, but he considers this scenario "unlikely" as only EasyJet or Ryanair could replace all the lost routes.

Efforts are under way to find an airline to replace Wizz's Tel Aviv route, which he says is required by Slovakian tour operators that have sold packages to the Israeli destination. About 3,000 passengers per month travel on the route, he estimates.

Kosice is keen to continue working with Wizz on its remaining Luton service to show the budget carrier there is "still a market" at the Slovakian city, says Tmej.

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