Maastricht Airlines Prepares for March Launch

European regional start-up Maastricht Airlines will launch flights from Maastricht Aachen Airport next month with ambitious plans to establish a network of routes across the continent. The carrier has recently opened reservations for its initial services and formalised its branding via a social media competition. The business, backed by both the Municipality of Maastricht and Province of Limburg, will begin operations on March 25, 2013 using a fleet of two Fokker 50s.

Maastricht Airlines will initially operate a daily service on the domestic route to Amsterdam with up to four flights every weekday, a six times weekly link to Berlin Tegel and twice weekday services to Munich. However, with plans to expand its fleet to six aircraft by the end of 2014 it has ambitious plans to expand its network to also include Copenhagen, London and Paris. The list of destinations shows that the carrier’s main emphasis will be on the premium business market and it is confident of being able to develop sustainable operations despite the excellent ground transport infrastructure and competition from domestic and international airports that have much stronger competition. “The main focus is business travel, as well as tourists looking to travel to other destinations from the Maastricht region,” said Marjolein Peerboom, Sales & Marketing Manager for the start-up carrier.

The southern Netherlands city of Maastricht, famous for being the birthplace of the European Union, is located in the south east of the country, close to the Belgian border and therefore many potential travellers in its vicinity can easily make use of alternative airports, including examples in Belgium and Germany. Operations from the city’s Maastricht Aachen Airport, a popular cargo facility are currently limited with Ryanair the only other year-round operator (Corendon Airlines and Transavia also provide seasonal services mainly serving the leisure markets of Greece and Turkey).

“The concept of the airline is focused on business travellers, which is a nice addition to our increasing leisure and low-fare network.  With three new destinations and 35 weekly flights Maastricht Airlines will be the second largest passenger operator at our airport and is an important contributor to the expected increase in passenger numbers in 2013.”

Sander Heijmans
Chief Executive Officer, Maastricht Aachen Airport

Maastricht Airlines will be firmly positioned as the number two carrier at Maastricht Aachen behind the Irish budget carrier, which now has a base at the airport. All three of its initial destinations have been served previously from the facility although none are flown currently.

The Amsterdam route was a previous mainstay of national carrier KLM Royal Dutch Airlines which inherited in March 1991 route from NLM cityhopper. Flights were initially operated under the KLM Exel brand using Embraer EMB-120 Brasilias before being upguaged to ATR 42 and Embraer ERJ-145 equipment. Latterly the route was flown by KLM cityhopper using Fokker 50s but was dropped in October 2008 as the carrier prepared for the retirement of its 50-seat turboprops. According to MIDT for 2008, approximately 8,000 bi-directional O&D passengers flew on the route that year with around 34,000 more transferring in Amsterdam to other services. The largest traffic flows were to or from the UK airports of Durham Tees Valley, London Heathrow, Manchester and Birmingham.

The two German routes have seen more limited operations from Maastricht. The Bavarian city of Munich was linked to Maastricht by KLM Exel on behalf of its parent between May 2000 and May 2002. The German capital, Berlin has been served directly from Maastricht by two low-cost carriers: easyJet offered flights between April 2005 and January 2007 and then Germanwings served the route from March 2011 and October 2012.

“The concept of the airline is focused on business travellers, which is a nice addition to our increasing leisure and low-fare network. With three new destinations and 35 weekly flights Maastricht Airlines will be the second largest passenger operator at our airport and is an important contributor to the expected increase in passenger numbers in 2013,” said Sander Heijmans, Chief Executive Officer, Maastricht Aachen Airport. “The foundation of an airline at our airport, and therefore deeply rooted in the regional community, is of great importance. Maastricht Airlines will allow the Meuse Rhine region to benefit from its own airline, one which is able to tailor to the regions needs. This is why Maastricht Aachen Airport has supported the initiative from the very beginning.”

As mentioned earlier, Ryanair has now established a base at Maastricht Aachen with a single Boeing 737-800 which will see it further strengthen its position as the dominant carrier at the airport. It first launched flights in April 2003 when it introduced a link from London Stansted, returning in June 2007 after a three year hiatus with flights from Girona. It currently provides flights to Alicante, Bergamo, Dublin, Girona, London, Pisa, Tenerife and Venice Treviso with seasonal offerings to Bari, Faro, Malaga, Palma, Porto and Trapani.

The opening of the base on December 12, 2012 facilitated the opening of the routes to Dublin, London Stansted and Venice Treviso, while Brive-La-Gaillarde in the region of Limousin in Southern France will also be served from April 3, 2013 on a twice weekly basis. Overall network capacity was increased by around half to 78 weekly flights across 15 different routes with forecasts to handle around 550,000 passengers per annum from the facility.

According to Heihmann the new base and expanded network make the airport’s offering to its passengers much more complete. “The positive economic impulse for the region as a result of this investment by Ryanair is substantial, and we hope that the growth generated by this new base will continue in the years to come,” he said.

In 2012, Maastricht Aachen Airport reported a small decline in both passenger traffic and cargo volumes. Total passenger numbers reached 345,000, slightly down on 2011, while cargo tonnage declined 18% to 75,000 tonnes. The freight reduction is almost fully attributable to the cancellation of import cargo flows from China, a reduction in perishable imports, in particular for Africa and South America as well as imports and exports to the Middle East and Turkey.

Although the airport forecasts that cargo levels will not recover to 2011 figures despite an expected growth in 2013, it does expect significant growth in the passenger market with the arrival of Maastricht Airlines and Ryanair’s expanded schedule boosting passenger numbers above the 500,000 level for the time.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…