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davidjohnson6
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Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Sun Sep 05, 2021 7:15 am

Readers of the Swiss and Turkish threads will be aware that Air Albania is dropping its routes to Istanbul and Zurich after 26 September. This means no pax airline service after 26 September

A new terminal opened at Kukes earlier this year. Commercial pax flights began properly in late June this year (the single flight in April 2021 was just a publicity stunt for the prime minister)

I know amongst those from Albania+Kosovo who work elsewhere in Europe there is a big annual migration back to Albania+Kosovo in July/August before leaving by the start of the autumn. Yes, Kukes is in Albania, but it's a fairly rural part of Albania, with Prizren in Kosovo being the nearest city

The terminal looks to have been built as an expensive and comfortable year-round airport, not a temporary overflow.

Is Kukes going to end up as just a summer overflow airport, (or even be abandoned) or is it intended to be any more that that ?
 
LXM83
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Sun Sep 05, 2021 8:31 pm

Flew from Zurich (ZRH/LSZH) to Kukës (KFZ/LAKU) just last Thursday (02Sep21) with Air Albania's (ZB/ABN) beautifully painted A319-132 ZA-BEL. The incoming KFZ-ZRH flight had 83 pax, my flight going back ZRH-KFZ it had just 23 pax.

The airport is in a really remote part of Albania, I cannot really fathom why this airport was refurbished and made operational for commercial flights as the 2nd airport in Albania. Kukës itself is a small town (17'000 inhabitants) and there's nothing really bigger around in the area... As davidjohnson6 has mentioned, Prizren in neighboring Kosovo is a larger city at 85'000 inhabitants. Owing to the large Kosovar diaspora in Switzerland, I can imagine some demand from Switzerland to this area of Kosovo. However Pristina (PRN/BKPR) airport at 50 Min driving time is much easier to reach than Kukës at 1:15 driving time plus an international border to cross. So I think that market is well served by the multitude of flights from PRN to Switzerland.

The terminal is really nicely designed and built, very pleasant. Everything is new, including the overpriced airport taxi fleet. There is a café, some ATM machines and a currency exchange desk. A great experience in a great setting in a beautiful valley.

The only scheduled routes were twice weekly to Zurich (ZRH/LSZH) and once weekly to Istanbul (IST/LTFM) by Air Albania. On Thursdays the aircraft rotation was TIA-IST-KFZ-ZRH-KFZ-IST-TIA, where all flights were sold as scheduled flights. On Sundays the rotation was TIA-KFZ as a positioning flight, then KFZ-ZRH-KFZ and then positioning back from KFZ to TIA. It makes one wonder how such an operation could ever be profitable. Also made me wonder why they didn't sell TIA-KFZ-ZRH and v.v. as a one-stop flight. Not that it would have helped much, but there's defintely more pax volume from TIA to ZRH than from KFZ to ZRH.

There were also regularly scheduled charter flights from ZRH to KFZ and v.v. operated by Helvetic Airways (2L/OAW) up to three times weekly, but these flights ceased after a short time. I myself was booked on one of these to go back from KFZ to ZRH but it got cancelled a couple of days before departure. Not a good sign. Also the fare remained low at CHF 99 one-way throughout the time it was bookable.

My opinion is that it won't close in the very near future (too much investment) but it won't have any regular traffic unless some subsidies will flow. Also, I have my doubts that it will attract any ULCC's as the approach is not the easiest one going down a valley with high terrain on either side, making operations in bad weather challenging. I fear it probably will become a white elephant.
 
s4popo
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Tue Sep 07, 2021 8:09 pm

Follow the cash... someone has fat pockets from this project.
 
davidjohnson6
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Tue Sep 07, 2021 10:43 pm

s4popo wrote:
Follow the cash... someone has fat pockets from this project.


S4popo - forgive me if I'm being a bit stupid but could you explain in more detail what you meant ? Did the company that built the terminal get rich ? Was it the UAE based donor who is rich ? Is there more money somewhere to subsidise an airline flying to Kukes ? Or is the money somewhere else ? I'm not trying to criticise... just trying to understand your message a little better
 
NeperQiell
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Tue Sep 07, 2021 11:28 pm

As an Albanian myself, this is what i can tell you: this airport is nothing more than a vanity project by our beloved corrupt government. The airport was built with minimal expenses and infastructure, and was extremely rushed just in time for this year's elections. Air Albania was forced to operate these routes by the government so they could prove that this airport is actually ''useful''. Ironically these routes are burning so much money that they are having to cancel them in less than 2 months. There is simply no need for an airport in this region, TIA is less than 2 hours away, while PRN is even less. Not to mention that it is the poorest region in Albania with 0 outbound demand. Of course this would sound too absurd to most of you, but unfortunately it does happen in our part of Europe. My most optimistic predicition is that they will pay Wizz to operate 3-4 routes and call it a day. That is all i can say with my limited English skills, LXM83 has quite a good explanation too.
 
N47
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 08, 2021 2:47 am

Great topic dj6! I was actually wondering myself how the airport was performing, i searched flights in flightaware a couple days ago but didnt see any. The airport is the closest to Valbonë national valley which is home to some great hiking, which sees its fair share of western tourists. Between that and serving as an alternative for PRN and TIA i dont know if that can be enough to sustain a healthy operation although i would doubt it.

I am also intersted in operations into and out of that airport it must be a pretty interesting approach. Driving in that area is pretty intense let alone flying.

There was also some talks a few years back to revitalize the airport in Gjakova which was a former italian/nato base and i believe it was handed over the gjakova municipality. Those talks eventually went nowhere.
 
holczakker
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 08, 2021 6:07 am

Most probably it would be a thriving airport if all the albanians currently using Skopje, Pristina and Podgorica would travel from here. However with a narrow runway with no lighting and landing aids whatsoever (no ILS, not even any VOR/DME but a PAPI from one direction which is descibed as "due to terrain constraints PAPI lights are visible from about 4 km", only VFR traffic is approved) surrounded with high terrain and located on a high elevation area in close vicinity of water (which must cause frequent low ceiling and low visibility I quess) it won't ever be. No airline would risk such an operation outside the summer months imho.
 
Q
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 08, 2021 3:29 pm

Oh my GOD! What is wrong with Engineerings, designers, and management construction workers? I just checked Google Map Earth and I saw runway markers ident number is the opposite wrong position. not at 012 degrees rwy is 19. 192 degrees RWY is 01. It is wrong!!!!!! LOL, What's wrong with them?

It should be 01 at 012 degrees and 192 degrees at 19.

Q
 
Q
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 08, 2021 4:07 pm

I found youtube's new update extended runway and they correct 1 from 19 old. I don't understand why the first place wrong paint number previously.

Q
 
TC957
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 08, 2021 4:56 pm

Sounds like the perfect airport for a Ryanair or Wizz base.
 
NeperQiell
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 08, 2021 5:18 pm

TC957 wrote:
Sounds like the perfect airport for a Ryanair or Wizz base.


Wizz has 2 large bases just right around the corner, TIA and SKP. I doubt they would be too interested.
 
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usdcaguy
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 08, 2021 7:36 pm

It would seem to me that building an airport at Sarande would be better, since the town is a four-hour drive from TIA and is close to Gjirokaster. Such an airport would support tourism in the region. Is there a reason why one has never been built in that area?
 
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airportugal310
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 08, 2021 9:47 pm

NeperQiell wrote:
As an Albanian myself, this is what i can tell you: this airport is nothing more than a vanity project by our beloved corrupt government. The airport was built with minimal expenses and infastructure, and was extremely rushed just in time for this year's elections. Air Albania was forced to operate these routes by the government so they could prove that this airport is actually ''useful''. Ironically these routes are burning so much money that they are having to cancel them in less than 2 months. There is simply no need for an airport in this region, TIA is less than 2 hours away, while PRN is even less. Not to mention that it is the poorest region in Albania with 0 outbound demand. Of course this would sound too absurd to most of you, but unfortunately it does happen in our part of Europe. My most optimistic predicition is that they will pay Wizz to operate 3-4 routes and call it a day. That is all i can say with my limited English skills, LXM83 has quite a good explanation too.


Don't worry...its not just an Albanian thing. Portugal is rife with the same BS...always some sort of subsidy/handout for the strangest infrastructural projects in the most outlandish places. To the other guys post...someone got rich for doing very little. Which is ironic, because isn't that the American dream ;)

The Kukes area looks nice on Google Maps, however. Have never been myself
 
NeperQiell
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 08, 2021 10:09 pm

usdcaguy wrote:
It would seem to me that building an airport at Sarande would be better, since the town is a four-hour drive from TIA and is close to Gjirokaster. Such an airport would support tourism in the region. Is there a reason why one has never been built in that area?


2 other airports will be built in the next 10 years, one in Sarandë and one in Vlorë. At least that's what the government has promised. Apparently the one in Vlorë will start construction very soon so let's see.
 
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PatrickZ80
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Sat Sep 11, 2021 12:35 pm

I can see Vlorë and Sarandë actually having potential for tourism, both of them being coastal towns. Sarandë is just opposite Corfu which attracts a huge number of beach tourists from all over Europe each summer, if Corfu can do it there's no reason Sarandë wouldn't be able to.

Kukës is a whole other story, there's literally nothing there. There's no outbound demand and no tourism, the airport was literally built for nothing.
 
Blerg
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Sat Sep 11, 2021 12:41 pm

Even if this airport is commercially unsustainable, I don't see the government shutting it down. I can't remember a time when a Balkan airport was closed down, no matter the losses governments always find a way to fund them.
 
davidjohnson6
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Tue Sep 21, 2021 9:14 am

Last Sunday, 19-September, flights to/from Kukes were all diverted to/from Tirana instead with schedules changed significantly to avoid even attempting to go to Kukes. FR24 shows very clearly that this was deliberate - there is no sign of aircraft circling near Kukes or a sudden change of course during a flight and there was no attempt at flying positioning legs between Tirana and Kukes

Have flights to/from Kukes already shut down ?
 
NeperQiell
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Tue Sep 21, 2021 11:08 am

davidjohnson6 wrote:
Last Sunday, 19-September, flights to/from Kukes were all diverted to/from Tirana instead with schedules changed significantly to avoid even attempting to go to Kukes. FR24 shows very clearly that this was deliberate - there is no sign of aircraft circling near Kukes or a sudden change of course during a flight and there was no attempt at flying positioning legs between Tirana and Kukes

Have flights to/from Kukes already shut down ?


Yes, they have, for the time being at least. Instead of canceling the flights altogether they offered passengers to fly in/out of Tirana.
 
LXM83
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Tue Sep 21, 2021 3:55 pm

It could also have been weather related on 19 Sep. Approach minimum is 5 km visibility as far as I seem to have read. Last flight on 26 Sep ZRH-KFZ is still on sale.
 
Toinou
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Tue Sep 21, 2021 4:20 pm

LXM83 wrote:
On Sundays the rotation was TIA-KFZ as a positioning flight, then KFZ-ZRH-KFZ and then positioning back from KFZ to TIA. It makes one wonder how such an operation could ever be profitable. Also made me wonder why they didn't sell TIA-KFZ-ZRH and v.v. as a one-stop flight. Not that it would have helped much, but there's defintely more pax volume from TIA to ZRH than from KFZ to ZRH.

There might obviously be more demand between Switzerland and Tirana than between between Switzerland and Kukës but the number must still not be that big.
The number of Kosovar nationals in Switzlerland was around 114'000 (estimate of people of Kosovar descent being about double that, including people holding Swiss citizenship) in 2020, while the number was around 2'600 for Albanian nationals (no estimates for total population with Albanian descent but the ratio must be pretty similar).
Knowing that VFR is the vast majority of the traffic on that link, the potential must be around 40 times higher to Kosovo than it is to Switzerland... It may explain why they did not even bothered to try.
 
LXM83
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 22, 2021 7:11 pm

Toinou wrote:
There might obviously be more demand between Switzerland and Tirana than between between Switzerland and Kukës but the number must still not be that big.


Thanks for adding your estimate of people of Kosovar and Albanian descent in Switzerland. The very busy routes from ZRH, BSL and GVA to PRN show the size of the market. I think the rationale for opening a ZRH-KFZ route was to try take a tiny slice of this market. Still a route from TIA-ZRH would have been more successful than from KFZ of all places...

There is definitely demand from TIA to ZRH as Edelweiss has shown by operating 2x weekly flights. These were popular for holidays in Albania this year (due to lack of corona restrictions for entering) but apparently also for connections in the LX network from/to ZRH. So much in fact that LX has taken over the route from WK.
 
davidjohnson6
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 22, 2021 7:57 pm

If Kukes-Zurich and Kukes-Istanbul didn't work, where did the people from Kukes go to find better paid work ? Kukes isn't a wealthy area compared to the rest of Europe. Would routes from Kukes to Milan, Bologna and Rome have likely worked better ?
 
LXM83
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 22, 2021 8:57 pm

As you say the Kukes area isn't wealthy and it is also thinly populated, with just 85'000 inhabitants in the whole Kukes county (called "qark" in Albanian). So I think any route would struggle, even to traditional Albanian migration areas such as Italy. I'm not familiar with Albanian migration patterns, but my guess would be that people who left the Kukes area to Italy would probably dispersed over much of Italy rather than have emigrated to a specific city.
 
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thekorean
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Wed Sep 22, 2021 9:41 pm

NeperQiell wrote:
As an Albanian myself, this is what i can tell you: this airport is nothing more than a vanity project by our beloved corrupt government. The airport was built with minimal expenses and infastructure, and was extremely rushed just in time for this year's elections. Air Albania was forced to operate these routes by the government so they could prove that this airport is actually ''useful''. Ironically these routes are burning so much money that they are having to cancel them in less than 2 months. There is simply no need for an airport in this region, TIA is less than 2 hours away, while PRN is even less. Not to mention that it is the poorest region in Albania with 0 outbound demand. Of course this would sound too absurd to most of you, but unfortunately it does happen in our part of Europe. My most optimistic predicition is that they will pay Wizz to operate 3-4 routes and call it a day. That is all i can say with my limited English skills, LXM83 has quite a good explanation too.

Feel like that money would have been better spent improving rail and road infrastructure to connect all of Albania better to TIA.
 
NeperQiell
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Thu Sep 23, 2021 9:30 am

davidjohnson6 wrote:
If Kukes-Zurich and Kukes-Istanbul didn't work, where did the people from Kukes go to find better paid work ? Kukes isn't a wealthy area compared to the rest of Europe. Would routes from Kukes to Milan, Bologna and Rome have likely worked better ?


Most people from that area have immigrated to the UK, more specifically London.
 
davidjohnson6
Topic Author
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Thu Sep 23, 2021 2:35 pm

It's possible that I'm seeing the results of a dodgy IT system... but Air Albania seem to have weekly flights from Kukes to Zurich on sale on Thursdays throughout October. Visit the airline's website for details...
 
NeperQiell
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Thu Sep 23, 2021 5:44 pm

Yes, it is confirmed and chances are that they will most likely operate them seasonally. They got a lot of complaints about the sudden cancellations.
 
Toinou
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Sat Sep 25, 2021 6:31 am

LXM83 wrote:
Still a route from TIA-ZRH would have been more successful than from KFZ of all places...

It's possible but not sure. If KFZ can attract people more people from Kosovo than TIA, then the demographic reasons we already mentioned may invert it.
 
NeperQiell
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Sat Sep 25, 2021 6:58 pm

Update: The airport's CEO said that they are currently in negotiations with Wizz Air and they are expected to launch operations there this winter. Let's see how true that is.
 
davidjohnson6
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Sun Sep 26, 2021 6:53 pm

Flew out of Kukes today - clear blue skies so impossible to claim any kind of weather issue. I asked one person working at the airport how many people worked at the airport - was told 100 (!) people. Thought that was a bit high and asked someone more official - got a very negative response and was told it was secret for passengers ! That said, I counted at least 30 people readily visible, not including ATC and people in offices. I had a strong sense of significant overstaffing even when there was the one flight of the week. I think 60 pax flew out, so maybe 60 flew in as well from Zurich this evening, or 120 pax total this week.

I'm not surprised about no winter flights being available right now. There's a mountain 2000m above the runway right next to the airport.... surrounding terrain means just one way in and one way out, even with cloudless skies and minimal wind. The approach is "interesting" and I haven't seen an A319 climb so steeply from takeoff in a long time. I imagine there are minimal navaids at the airport, and if there is ILS, I very much doubt it's level 3
In cloudless skies, the approach as a pax looks very scenic, but I definitely wouldn't want to do it in the dark or cloudy conditions

Great fun as an a.netter (13 euros for a 2 hour flight - I'm not complaining !), but all in all, it seems like a bizarre place for a passenger airport... and an airport run in an utterly frivolous way financially.
Last edited by davidjohnson6 on Sun Sep 26, 2021 7:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
 
NeperQiell
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Re: Kukes airport, Albania - future or will it close ?

Sun Sep 26, 2021 7:12 pm

davidjohnson6 wrote:
Flew out of Kukes today - clear blue skies so impossible to claim any kind of weather issue. I asked one person working at the airport how many people worked at the airport - was told 100 (!) people. Thought that was a bit high and asked someone official - got a very negative response and was told it was secret for passengers ! That said, I counted at least 25 people readily visible, not including maybe 5 taxi drivers. I had a strong sense of significant overstaffing even when there was the one flight of the week. I think 60 pax flew out, so maybe 60 flew in as well from Zurich this evening, or 120 pax total this week.

I'm not surprised about no winter flights being available right now. There's a mountain 2000m above the runway right next to the airport.... surrounding terrain means just one way in and one way out, even with cloudless skies and minimal wind. The approach is "interesting" and I haven't seen an A319 climb so steeply from takeoff in a long time. I imagine there are minimal navaids at the airport, and if there is ILS, I very much doubt it's level 3
In cloudless skies, the approach as a pax looks very scenic, but I definitely wouldn't want to do it in the dark or cloudy conditions

Great fun as an a.netter (13 euros for a 2 hour flight - I'm not complaining), but All in all, it seems like a bizarre place for a passenger airport... and an airport run in an utterly frivolous way financially.


Thanks for the LF information and i hope you enjoyed your stay in Albania! And yes it is true that the navigational infrastrucure is beyond minimal and winter operations will be a challenge. If anyone is curious about the approach here is a video i recorded in July. Temperature that day was almost 40 and everything was covered in heat haze: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LZRg0IWIeQ

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