Slovakian low-cost carrier SkyEurope aims to establish bases across central Europe in a bid to become the region's leading leisure carrier ahead of entry into the European Union in 2005.

The Bratislava-based airline took delivery of its first jet, a Boeing 737-500, last week, reversing an earlier plan favouring the Airbus A320 family after the Slovakian government lifted a heavy import tax on non-EU aircraft.

The company operates its four 30-seat Embraer EMB-120 Brasilias to 11 points across central Europe and offers shuttle buses to its base at Vienna-Bratislava Express Airport from neighbouring cities. The 133-seat ex-Rio Sul 737-500, leased from GE Capital Aviation Services, will be joined by three more 737s over the next 12 months as the network to western Europe is expanded, says SkyEurope commercial director Pavol Mlady.

The 737 will be used on daily services to London Stansted this month and Paris Orly next month. It plans to serve Amsterdam, Brussels and Rome. "Much of the demand for these new services has come from non- Slovakians," says Mlady. These are chiefly Austrians, Czechs and Hungarians, he adds.

SkyEurope is to embark on a "brand awareness plan" in these countries and Poland, says Mlady, in an attempt to be the region's strongest low-cost carrier when these countries enter the EU. SkyEurope plans to establish services from cities in new-entrant countries soon after the planned 2005 EU membership extends fifth-freedom rights to new entrants. Western European airlines including EasyJet, Germanwings and Ryanair have expressed interest in flying from points in central Europe.

Source: Flight International