Lithuania is pursuing a strategy of co-operation rather than competition between its three main airports.

Last year, the Baltic republic merged the airports of the capital Vilnius, second city Kaunas and coastal resort Palanga under a single management structure. The intent is for the three gateways to complement each other with individual strengths rather than compete for air traffic, says Lithuanian Airports commercial chief Jurate Baltrusaityte.

The three airports had a combined volume of 3.7 million passengers in 2014, while Lithuania has a population of around three million. Over the last decade, the country's air traffic has grown 8.5%, with low-cost carriers playing a "dominating" role, says Baltrusaityte.

The vast majority of traffic is handled by Vilnius airport, which is this year set to reach three million passengers for the first time. The capital's terminal has capacity for 3.5 million. But rather than extending the facilities, Lithuania Airports aims to direct growth to Kaunas, which is located around 100km (60mi) northwest of Vilnius.

Kaunas's airport handled around 800,000 passengers last year, but has capacity for 1.3 million. Baltrusaityte concedes that it is risky strategy to ask airlines to split traffic between two airports, as a larger network at a single hub could generate further growth. "We might have to convince airlines to go Kaunas," she says.

Baltrusaityte admits that passenger flights alone will not suffice to sustain the business in Kaunas. Management is therefore aiming to support the local aircraft maintenance industry and establish the regional airport – adjacent to a free-trade industrial zone – as a cargo hub for eastern Europe.

Last year, Vilnius-based Avia Solutions Group opened a greenfield widebody hangar for its MRO subsidiary FL Technics in Kaunas. The consortium's helicopter support unit Helisota was already operating in that city.

Irish budget carrier Ryanair is employing a separate entity named Kaunas Aircraft Maintenance Services for C-checks on its Boeing 737 fleet. That facility was established for Ryanair with local government support in 2012. Capacity has since been doubled with a second hangar.

The cargo strategy is to attract freight carriers serving routes between Europe and Asia. A stopover in Kaunas could shorten trucking routes for goods being delivered to eastern European destinations where these would otherwise be transported from cargo hubs such as Amsterdam and Frankfurt, says Baltrusaityte. But she adds that these plans have been put hold as a result of the political crisis involving Russia and Ukraine.

Source: Cirium Dashboard