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Bulgaria's international air traffic at 75% of 2019 level - asso
SOFIA (Bulgaria), March 17 (SeeNews) - International passenger numbers at Bulgarian airports amounted to some 8.58 million last year, or 74.8% of the level recorded in the pre-pandemic 2019, the Bulgarian Airlines Association (ABA) said.
Passengers on international regular flights made up 84.5% of the total number in 2022 and were 20% fewer than in 2019, ABA said in its latest aviation market report released on Thursday.
As many as 33% of all international passengers are served by Bulgaria's two coastal airports in Varna (14.5%) and Burgas (18.5%).
The trend towards a decrease in charter flights to Bulgaria continued, with charter passengers at some 1.33 million last year compared to 2.44 million in 2019. The drop is partly due to the increasing popularity of low-cost airlines on the Bulgarian market, according to a report by the Bulgarian aviation employers' organisation.
ABA added that passenger numbers will possibly reach the pre-pandemic levels by 2025, with the seemingly quick post-COVID-19 recovery likely to slow down in 2023 and 2024 due to unfavourable general economic environment.
A total of 19 air carriers were licensed to operate regular and charter passenger flights as well as cargo and special flights to and from Bulgaria in 2022, ABA said. Bulgarian airlines operated 74 aircraft with a maximum take-off weight of 6,600 kg last year, compared to 49 planes in 2018.
Bulgaria is also an important aircraft maintenance hub in Eastern Europe, with the total capacity of maintenance lines for 150-seat aircraft increasing to 17 by the end of 2022 from 12 in 2018.
Expanding operations by airlines, coupled with the lack of initial flight training capacity, make for a continued trend in pilot shortages and the recruitment of foreign pilots whose share in Bulgarian airlines has doubled to 10% between 2018 and 2022. During the 2023 summer season, their share is likely to reach 15%, ABA added.
"Bulgarian airlines have to allocate significant funds for investments in new aircraft equipment in order to fulfil the requirements linked to the EU's green policies as well as new technical requirements, due to the complexity of air traffic structure," ABA noted.
The Bulgarian Airlines Association was set up in 2002 by major Bulgarian air companies accounting for some 80% of the volume of regular and charter flights. Its members include Bulgaria Air, European Air Charter, Heli Air, BH Air and Bul Air, among others.
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