Interview: Striking A Balance At Vienna Airport

plane landing at Vienna International Airport

Julian Jäger is joint CEO of Flughafen Wien AG, the company that manages Vienna International Airport (above).

Credit: GmbH & Co. KG/Alamy Stock Photo

Julian Jäger, joint CEO of Flughafen Wien AG, sat down with Aviation Week Network for an exclusive interview.

Vienna Airport is said to be the most punctual hub for Lufthansa Group airlines. How have you managed to achieve this?

After the pandemic, Austrian Airlines has achieved excellent punctuality, ranking as the third-most-punctual airline in Europe, according to OAG Schedules Analyser. Additionally, Vienna is recognized as the third-most-punctual hub in Europe, following Copenhagen and Oslo. Within the Lufthansa Group, Austrian stands out as the most punctual airline, and Vienna holds the distinction of being the most punctual hub. This achievement has contributed to Austrian Airlines surpassing its pre-pandemic passenger numbers in 2023, transporting more passengers than in 2019. While Vienna Airport remains 7% below pre-crisis levels, it recorded its second-best year in 2023, handling 29.5 million passengers. Despite the airport coming close to 2019 figures, the reduced number of flight movements is attributed to fuller and larger aircraft.

What is necessary for a hub to be successful?

Above all, there is excellent cooperation with the network carrier, and I can affirm that collaboration with Austrian is highly effective. Important topics are openly discussed, and we meet before the flight schedule periods to explore possible improvements or address potential challenges. At Vienna Airport, we manage numerous processes ourselves, holding the position of the largest handling operator on-site. We handle security checks internally with our staff, including winter services, involving 500 employees for emergencies and de-icing. We also work extensively with our customers and system partners. Naturally, the capacity of terminals and runways contributes significantly to our success.

In comparison, German airports attribute more than 20% of delays to ground handling, while ours accounts for only 2%. Many German airports do not have control over a substantial portion of their processes. Additionally, supporting short-time work was crucial for Vienna, preventing staff reductions during the pandemic. Approximately 20% of employees departed or retired voluntarily during this period, but the majority opted to remain with the company. This enabled us to initiate a successful recovery in 2022 after the pandemic. Furthermore, we increased wages and salaries.

Does the fact that Vienna has now surpassed the Zurich hub in terms of passenger volume also indicate a measure of quality?

This situation underscores our catchment area, which encompasses Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Austrian Airlines has more passengers today than in 2019, holding a market share of almost 47% in Vienna. The entire Lufthansa Group represents over 51% of passengers, with an additional 30% going to LCCs, which are particularly important for Vienna as a tourist destination. Maintaining a balanced market relationship in Vienna, featuring a robust home carrier and a dynamic low-cost segment, is essential to us. In 2023, most airlines in Vienna turned a profit, including major carriers. This illustrates that they complement each other well.

In terms of passenger volume in Germany, airports in 2023 remain 25% below 2019 levels. We are also 25% below pre-crisis levels in traffic to Germany and are currently recording a 31% reduction in volume to Switzerland. However, this is compensated by a substantial volume of passengers from Vienna to southern Europe and the Middle East. While our long-haul connections are still below pre-COVID levels, currently at around 80%, we are optimistic about further growth on long-haul routes. The return of ANA from Tokyo and the modernization of the Austrian long-haul fleet will provide an important impetus for this.

How can Vienna continue to grow?

I hope that we can enhance Vienna and Austria's location advantage even further. In Germany, the ticket tax has undergone a drastic increase, reaching €77 ($83) for a long-haul flight, whereas in Austria, it is €12. We have a special tax for ultra-short journeys here, which is acceptable. However, the airports and their connectivity play a crucial role for the respective regions, encompassing tourism, the manufacturing industry and more. I believe it is positive that we are evolving as a more favorable aviation location than Germany and Switzerland. I urge politicians to ensure the continuity of these favorable conditions.

Returning to our earlier discussion about the quality and punctuality of a hub, how fierce is the competition between these hubs?

The most intense competition occurs within the Lufthansa Group. We see how Lufthansa decides the allocation of additional aircraft and their placement. This tough competition directly impacts Austrian and us. Munich and Zurich are certainly the toughest competitors for Vienna—and this competition could intensify if ITA Airways’ Rome hub becomes part of the Lufthansa Group.

Kurt Hofmann

Kurt Hofmann has been writing on the airline industry for 25 years. He appears frequently on Austrian, Swiss and German television and broadcasting…