The civil aviation sector in Poland continues to undergo many changes concurrent with the country’s recent accession to the European Union. The liberalization of Poland’s air transportation industry and implementation of the “open skies” agreement as of May 1, 2004 has created a new operating environment, which promises vastly increased competition. Until 2008 the number of passengers served at Polish airports was growing rapidly, with the world’s fastest annual growth rate. This growth stopped at the end of 2008 and in 2009 due to the global economic crisis.
The number of passengers passing through Polish airports has been growing significantly over the last several years. In 2004, the number of passengers reached almost 9 million. In 2005, this figure reached 11.5 million, while in 2008 – over 20.5 million although growth halted at the end of 2008 and in the first quarter of 2009, it is expected to continue over the next several years. The Civil Aviation Office predicts that the total number of passengers served by Polish airports will reach 31.7 million in 2015, almost 41 million in 2020 and 65 million in 2030.
In recent years, the structure of the Polish air sector has changed significantly – first, regarding growth in the number of passengers - mostly attributed to low cost airlines, and second, regional airports have noted a much higher passenger growth rate than at the Warsaw Airport. Poland’s national airline, LOT, is considered to be one of the leaders among Central and Eastern European airlines. The company was privatized at the beginning of the 1990’s with 24 % of shares sold to Swissair.
These shares, after Swissair’s bankruptcy were taken over by SAirLines BV and were recently transferred to the Finance Society "Silesia" Co. Ltd. (owned by the State Treasury). Now LOT is owned by the State Treasury of Poland and LOT employees. The airline is a member of the Star Alliance and participates in Lufthansa’s Miles and More Program. Warsaw’s Okecie International Airport, the largest in Poland and is operated by the Polish Airports State Enterprise (PPL). Okecie currently operates two terminals – T1 opened in 1992 and T2 which opened in spring 2008.
Most regional airports are owned by consortia, which include nearby municipalities, Polish Airports State Enterprise and private entities. In the past, most lacked the necessary funds and capital to adequately develop, but currently funds from regional development funds, European Union Structural and Cohesion funds, and private capital are readily available. One airport, in Bydgoszcz, has a private foreign company as a minority shareholder. The Civil Aviation Office is the primary Polish civil aviation authority, and falls under the authority of the Ministry of Infrastructure.
By Joanna Chomicka