Interview: Bergen's Feel-Good Factor
Bergen Airport director Helge Eidsnes, who earlier in his life served as a fire chief in Bergen, tells Routes why airlines should choose the “gateway to the fjords.”
How has the airport fared through the COVID-19 pandemic and where do you stand now?
In November of last year we reached 85% of 2019 traffic. So, that had us feeling good. In November 2021, we had some weeks with nearly 89% traffic compared to 2019. And then we got omicron in December and we had a December and January and early February where the traffic dropped again. Now it is coming back. In some weeks in March and April, we actually reached 95% of 2019 totals. If we look into it, domestic traffic in Norway—we have 45 airports in Norway—is very important. In 2021, we had several weeks where we were actually above 2019 domestic traffic levels. That’s mostly due to Widerøe, which has had strong growth at Bergen Airport, and in addition we have business traffic, especially for the domestic oil and gas industry, which was steady during the whole pandemic. In 2022, domestic traffic is above 2019 levels. If we look at international traffic, in April we averaged down 37% versus 2019. We think it will be a very good summer for international traffic.
When will Bergen reach total 2019 traffic levels?
Certainly by the end of 2022 we will have more of those weeks where we are at an average level as high or higher than 2019. I think at the end of 2023 we hope to be back fully to the levels before the pandemic. We have 60% leisure traffic and that’s coming back faster compared to business traffic, so hopefully by the end of 2023 we will be past 2019.
How has the pandemic changed your strategy, if at all?
Mainly, we are following the same strategy as before the pandemic, focusing on the incoming leisure market. We are focused on building sufficient point-to-point traffic by keeping strong hub connections. Prior to the pandemic we had 70 routes and this summer we are back to 60 of them. We are satisfied we have so many routes back, but the average load factor has been 50% and our focus has been, and will be, on filling the seats. We have a cost-reduction program for airlines. And we also have been upgrading the facilities in the terminal during the period with lower traffic in the terminal. I think we are recovering faster than other similar airports in Europe. It’s a great incoming tourist and leisure market.
What attracts those incoming tourists to Bergen?
What’s special for us, number one, is that Bergen Airport is the gateway to the fjords. Seventy percent of visitors to the fjords are coming through Bergen Airport. And then we also are a UNESCO World Heritage city—a charming city with a walkable city center. We also have the Bergen cultural scene. And we have the fourth-largest cruise port in Europe—that’s very important for us.
How many airlines are serving Bergen now and do you expect to add more soon?
We have 17 airlines for the summer. Four of them were new during the pandemic. United Airlines, for example, is now serving New York from Bergen. We have returning airlines, such as Lufthansa, Iberia, Loganair and Finnair. There will be 100 airlines at Routes Europe—we are working to convince at least three or four airlines at Routes Europe to serve Bergen.
What will your offer be to those airlines to come to Bergen?
We have a policy of providing an incentive package for new routes if those routes are operated with a certain number of frequencies. We are offering them a price reduction for a period of three years. We will keep doing that. We are also looking at a possible different approach to incentives. That is not decided yet. For example, we could provide incentives for the environmental and sustainability aspects of an airline’s operation.
Why is sustainability so important for Bergen Airport?
We said we were going to reduce our carbon footprint from 2012 to 2022 by 50% and we are reaching that goal this year. Our goal is to reduce it by 100% by 2030. We have electric buses and electric cars operating at the airport. We hope to be the first airport to have an all-electric flight. We are working with Widerøe on that.
You’ve mentioned Widerøe several times. What is Widerøe’s significance to the airport?
Widerøe has been here for many years and is very important. Actually, they increased their traffic at the airport by 50% compared to 2019. Especially important is their strategy of using Bergen Airport as a hub. Widerøe operates 15 domestic routes and nine international routes from Bergen. I think Bergen has the best hub connections of any airport in Norway. KLM, Air France, United—when they fly to Bergen, they know there are connections to other airports in Norway via regional routes. So, we are working very closely with Widerøe on their hub strategy.