This article does not have the intention of stirring up fear of a possible downfall of Adria Airways. God forbid! Quite the contrary. I’m certain that the Slovenian national air carrier, which is, let’s be honest, in trouble, will be able to find a suitable solution. Adria is not some obscure construction company, yet a national icon, a symbol, a sort of “Triglav of tourism”.  But still: survival of airlines during economic crises in the last decade is no longer self evident. It happens even in “the best of families”…

Behind nine mountains and nine waters, there’s a little country, twice the size of Slovenia. It’s called Switzerland and it’s known for reliability, tidiness, banks, watches, cheese and a purple cow called Milka. In 1931 two airlines joined forces in Zurich – Balair and Ad Astra Aero. The new company was called Swissair and soon became known as the “flying bank”, since neither economic crisis nor the second world war could harm it. It was on their flight that the first stewardess in Europe, Nelly Diener, flew in 1934 and became world famous. In 1990 Swissair started the so called “Hunter strategy” and invested extensively into numerous air lines and hotels (Swissotel) as well as restaurants. Yet there was less and less money and September 11th 2001 attacks in the US significantly devalued their investments. The UBS Bank (colloquially known as “United Bandits of Switzerland”) closed the financial flow on October 1st 2001, oil companies stopped pumping gasoline, the government didn’t respond immediately and all of this caused indignation amongst the people. The newspapers reported on “the darkest day in Swiss economic history” and the BBC wrote “the downfall of Swissair took with it the glory of the reliable Swiss economy”. Despite governmental aid of 450 million francs on April 1st next year, as a bad April fool’s joke, Swissair filed for bankruptcy. At the same time the Belgian national pride – Sabena (established in 1923), came to ruin. Swissair was supposed to invest 258 million Euros of money it didn’t have into this company.  On the site of fire of both companies Swiss International and SN Brussels sprung up (now both owned by Lufthansa).  That very year the Australian company Ansett Australia fell to ruin after 66 years and 11 days of existence, and in the USA America West, Northwest, Continental and US Airways were buried.

Sic transit gloria mundi! Thus passes the glory of the world.

And how did the downfall of Swissair and Sabena impact the Swiss and Belgian tourism? Heh,… it wasn’t pleasant, yet tourism survived. In 2000 Switzerland noted 7.8 million of incoming tourist, next year 7.5, another year later 6.8 and in 2005 6.5 million. The number of tourists dropped for 1.3 million. It was different in Belgium – the number of incoming tourists was more or less stable in the next years – around 6.7 million. Yet we must stress both countries are excellently connected with their target markets by road and railway. Even more so: at  Zürich Kolten (and Geneva) and Brussels Zaventem many foreign planes landed every day. Not only Lufthansa, British Airways, Alitalia…but also American, Chinese, Indian. EasyJet and Ryanair were also in the market and a whole legion of new low cost airlines was emerging. Market forces have therefore successfully helped national tourism survive this hit in the form of the downfall of the national airline.

Would the same happen in Slovenia if, god forbid, our Adria were to blow away?

Nope. It would be much, much worse. Adria transported almost 1.2 million passengers last year. Unfortunately we don’t have the data on how many of them were foreigners, yet the number is certainly significant. This was almost 78 per cent of all traffic at the Ljubljana Airport (this year the percentage is somewhat smaller, yet still 75 per cent).  Far behind with a 6.2 per cent market share is EasyJet, followed by Air France, Czech, Turkish, Finnair, JAT and others. Shall I elaborate further? Should we weep with a bleeding heart that Slovenian Railways don’t even feel like a part of Slovenian and international tourism in its struggle for existence. And that we should at least find some comfort in good roads, even though we overpaid them immensely and that there are still traffic jams at Peračica and Markovec, not to mention our segment of the Phyrn motorway.

In case Adria becomes grounded it is, of course, possible foreign air carriers will try to increase their number of flights to Ljubljana. Yet – things don’t happen overnight. New agreements should be made with Ljubljana Airport and planes, which are not always available, should be assured. It would also be possible that the government would quickly establish a sort of New Adria Airways, like they did several years ago with the New Ljubljana Bank and New KBM, or as the Swiss did by building Swiss International from Crossair. In our case this would not be kosher, especially if we didn’t alter the patterns of managing an airline, which clearly contributed to the unfortunate conditions, out “wings” are in at the moment.  We should not be comforted by the fact that that Alitalia constantly suffers losses and that Air India has over a billion dollars of debt. We should be much more interested whether the company on Kuzmičeva Street has a crisis management scenario reaching past begging for governmental aid and what is the opinion of Ljubljana Airport, Adria’s biggest partner.

Do we just not care enough? Well …that’s not exactly true. Adria Airways is more than just an airline. Adria Airways is the kidney in the body of Slovenian tourism, we can’t live without it. Adria is the Icarus of Slovenian tourism, for now we are merely worriedly gazing, as it soars to close to the sun. It’s an icon, some sort of Triglav of Slovenian tourism and belongs to all of us. Therefore, we should not let it fail.

Rok Klančnik

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