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Discount carrier SkyEurope lands in Prague

By: Martina Marečková, 20. 02. 2006, More by this author:

The number of Czechs aboard Slovak no-frills carrier SkyEurope Airlines is bound to increase from the meager 3 percent seen during most of last year.

On Feb. 14, SkyEurope Airlines became the third air carrier to establish a base at Prague Ruzyně Airport, in addition to flagship carrier Czech Airlines (ČSA) and Czech low-cost airline Smart Wings, which is operated by Travel Service.

“In spite of being influenced by the low-cost revolution, mostly from the U.K., the market in Prague remains underserved and lacked a dedicated low-cost, low-fare airline based there,” said Christian Mandl, CEO of SkyEurope Airlines. This April, SkyEurope will start flying from Prague to airports serving seven European cities: Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Barcelona, Spain; Naples, Milan’s Bergamo airport and Rome’s Fiumicino in Italy; and Nice and Paris’ Orly in France. “Prague has been on our radar screen for a long time, and is a logical next step in our expansion program in Central Europe,” Mandl said.

With one-way fares starting at Kč 290 (about € 10) plus airport taxes, SkyEurope will compete on routes with several carriers including Travel Service and ČSA, which also operate between Prague and Amsterdam, Barcelona, Milan, Paris and Rome. “We’re monitoring the competition,” said Vladimíra Dufková, a spokeswoman for Travel Service. “It’s also about the brand, and we’re the only Czech low-cost airline,” she added.

Establishing SkyEurope as a leading consumer brand is one of the company’s strategies. Mandl said SkyEurope isn’t a competitor to ČSA, as SkyEurope flies point-to-point and doesn’t connect air traffic from Prague.

The company hired pilots from charter operator Charter Air, formerly known as Fischer Air, which was declared bankrupt on Feb. 13.

SkyEurope Airlines, founded in 2001, already has bases in Bratislava, Slovakia; Budapest, Hungary; and Krakow and Warsaw, Poland. The airline flies to 37 destinations in 20 countries, and will base two new Boeing 737-700 aircraft in Prague. The airline plans to expand its current fleet of 12 Boeing 737 aircraft with 16 new Boeing 737-700 aircraft by 2007.

Competition on leisure routes

As SkyEurope opened in Prague, Hungarian no-frills airline Wizz Air, SkyEurope’s rival on the Central European market, said Feb. 14 that the Slovak company was canceling several routes from Poland. But SkyEurope replied immediately by saying they cancelled only two existing routes out of Poland — Warsaw to London-Stansted and Warsaw to Bratislava — and postponed the start of some new routes, while announcing seven new destinations from Poland, starting in the near future. SkyEurope plans to announce more routes from Poland soon.

In reaction to SkyEurope’s price attack, Smart Wings began offering one-way tickets to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Milano, Paris and Rome for Kč 190, excluding airport taxes. For example, SkyEurope offered a round-trip from Prague to Paris going May 19 and coming back May 21 for the lowest price of Kč 290 one way, which came to Kč 1,682 round-trip with airport taxes. ČSA’s lowest fare for the route in that time frame came to Kč 5,580.

Meanwhile, Polish no-frills airline Centralwings, owned by national air carrier LOT, is boosting charter flights to Bulgarian sea resorts in the upcoming summer season. The company began flying to Burgas last summer and is adding Varna in June, spokeswoman Magdalena Zawadzka said.

With SkyEurope’s “Go East” strategy, which promotes service to cities in Eastern Europe, it wouldn’t be surprising if the carrier opened flights to non-EU countries from its new base in Prague. In December last year, the airline launched flights from Bratislava and Budapest to Romania and Bulgaria, including resorts Varna and Burgas. SkyEurope chairman Alain Skowronek declined to comment on future destinations from Prague and said that the company’s priority is to strengthen its position on the Central European market, and only then focus on the Go East strategy.

Charter Air belongs to the Karel Komárek group of companies, which includes Stanford a.s., the publisher of this newspaper.

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