June 2018: Lodz to get excited about!

It wasn’t long ago that Lodz Airport was struggling to survive. Its president of the board and CEO, Anna Midera, tells Chloë Greenbank how the airport is turning its fortunes around.

When it comes to weekend getaways, the Polish city of Lodz might not immediately spring to mind as a place to visit. But with its vibrant arts and cultural scene, lively nightlife and eclectic blend of industrial and contemporary architecture, the city is garnering a name for itself as Poland’s ‘one to watch’. What’s more Lodz Airport is at the heart of this transformation.

“Lodz has been nicknamed the Polish Manchester,” says Anna Midera, president of the board and CEO for Lodz Airport. It has earned the moniker because of its history as the cradle of Poland’s textile industry and as one of the biggest centres of this industry in the world. “But beyond its industrial background, it’s a great city with so much potential, so much to offer visitors,” Midera adds. “Getting that message out there is vital and will of course help drive traffic to the airport!”

Midera is a force to be reckoned with. She has a PhD in economics from the University of Lodz, where she worked for 13 years before relocating to Warsaw to work for the Ministry of Infrastructure. Here she was tasked with overseeing the government’s transport policy and was also invited to join then Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s advisory committee to produce a report on transport titled Poland 2030 – Third Wave of Modernity – Transport. She then worked for the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency before moving back to her hometown of Lodz. At the end of 2016, she joined the board for Lodz Airport, and in April 2017 she was appointed as the airport’s CEO.

Team spirit

“I’m probably one of the newest members of the team at the airport,” Midera reveals. Most of the core team of staff have been there for at least 10 years, but the airport was in need of a boost. “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s changed since I’ve joined. But I’d like to think that one of the things I’ve brought to the table is cohesion among my colleagues. We now work really well together as a team and we’re united in our optimism for the future of the airport.”

Midera has also implemented a five-year strategic plan to drive growth at the airport, which has undoubtedly been a source of motivation and given everyone a focus.

While the main business development team, who are responsible for commercial operations and establishing airline partnerships, only totals about seven staff, there are over 250 people working at the airport itself. “We manage our own ground handling operations, so we don’t rely on outsourcing these services, which makes it easier to control costs,” reveals Midera.

Healthy competition

Lodz has always had to compete with Poland’s other airports, including Warsaw Chopin International, which is located in the Polish capital, approximately 130km away. With Warsaw’s primary airport expected to reach maximum capacity within a few years, the government is planning to build a new airport, which it says will “rival the world’s best.”

This site for this new hub, which is due for completion in 2027, is in Baranow, Central Poland – between Warsaw and Lodz.

But with the second fastest developing market for air traffic services – last year the Polish aviation market experienced 18% growth and this year it’s forecast to enjoy 12% growth – Midera isn’t put off by the new airport. Instead, she sees it as healthy competition.

“When I joined the airport, people saw it as pretty much a lost cause,” confides Midera. “Warsaw was considered by many to be too much competition and we didn’t have any charter flights, but that’s changed,” she adds. Air traffic and passenger numbers are on the up at the airport, with several new services scheduled for this summer. Midera also divulges that they are witnessing a growing demand from young professionals with a disposable income and a desire to travel.

“Lodz is the third biggest city in Poland and we have a catchment of around 700,000 people living in the city and around 1.1 million in the wider catchment area.” Although the airport currently serves around 200,000 passengers, it has the capacity to cater for two milllion passengers. “We are a modern airport with good facilities and a 2,500m runway,” says Midera. “There is no need for additional investments at this stage to expand the terminal, so we’re in a good position to handle more traffic.”

Diversity is the key to success

Ryanair and Lufthansa are the two carriers currently serving Lodz Airport, with the majority of passengers travelling to Lodz from the Polish diaspora. “I would say only 10–12% of the passengers who travel through the airport are foreign,” Midera says. “On our flights from London, Dublin and the East Midlands in particular, it’s mostly Polish passengers.”

Ryanair currently flies to London, Dublin, the East Midlands, and – as of May 2018 – Athens, which currently has a load factor of 96%. Lufthansa meanwhile began its Lodz-Munich service, which is being operated once a day, five days a week, in March of this year. “This new route is going well. We are really happy with the load factors and we are optimistic about growing our partnership with Lufthansa,” says Midera.

Later this month, Onur Air will expand its Polish network with weekly flights between Antalya in Turkey and Lodz for the summer season, while the Polish charter airline, Enter Air, is launching flights between Lodz and Burgas in Bulgaria.

“Diversification has been and will continue to be key for our growth,” says Midera. “It won’t work if we just have one airline based here, we want to be flexible and to accommodate different airlines serving different destinations.”

Incentives and initiatives to drive growth

One of the initiatives that Midera has implemented to incentivise carriers is a new tariff. “The previous tariff hadn’t been changed for 20 or so years, so it was time for us to review this and see what other airports were offering and what would appeal to different airlines,” says Midera not wanting to disclose too much information. But she does reveal that the new tariff has definitely helped boost the interest of new airline partners.

Midera also highlights the need to invest in promoting the city and to continue working alongside the local authorities in doing so. “Lodz is a sexy airport,” she says laughing. “It’s a reflection of the city itself, which is vibrant, eclectic and fun! It’s a great destination for young people, plus it’s not too expensive once you’re here. That’s the message we need to convey.”

Boosting inbound traffic will of course benefit the local economy too. Midera stresses that as well as catering for the leisure market, Lodz has a high population of students with some 80,000 students residing in the city and there is plenty of potential for business travellers too.

Bartolini Air recently expanded its operations and now offers private air travel and jet management services from Lodz. “While it’s an ideal destination for a city break, Lodz also offers plenty of scope for business travellers too. Because of its location in Central Poland, everything is accessible,” exclaims Midera.

Midera’s enthusiasm is infectious. It’s something that unsurprisingly has rubbed off on her team. At the Routes Europe event in Bilbao in April, the airport staff were distributing ‘Lodz Airport socks’ to delegates. It caused a buzz of excitement, with attendees flocking to the stand intrigued to find out more about what Lodz had to offer, beyond eye-catching foot apparel.

Its brightly coloured socks in place, the airport is certainly putting its best foot forward. With a strong, motivated team and a clear set of goals in place, Midera concludes that she is “optimistic about reaching 500,000 passengers per annum at the airport within three years.”

Find out more about Lodz Airport here.

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