Groningen Airport Eelde facing further problems

Written by Stephen Swai

It seems that Groningen Airport Eelde, the Netherlands’ smallest passenger airfi eld, is in trouble following recent bad news. On 29 December, it was announced that the airline Estonian Nordica would stop using the airport for its scheduled services to Copenhagen and Munich. These two international airports, so-called hubs, provided passengers with connections to distant fl ights around the world. The hubs were part of a rescue strategy for Eelde. “That is why our hub strategy is so important. We need regular services to major transfer airports. These connections also yield many more incoming passengers and that is good for the regional economy,” explained Bowy Odink, the Commercial Manager of Eelde. Without Nordica’s daily fl ights from Eelde to Copenhagen and Munich, the airport would be left with a scheduled Flybe service to London Southend Airport three times a day during the week, twice on Saturdays and once on Sundays.

Reasons for closing shop

Nordica had been making a loss on its daily fl ights from the airport to both destinations. Earlier, Nordica had canceled its regular fl ights to Brussels. Although the airline was receiving fi nancial compensation from the airport for every empty seat, that was not enough to prevent losses.

Shareholders concerns

Shareholders of the airport had declared their willingness to invest €46 million in the airport for ten years from 2017. The shareholders, with their contribution percentage, included the provinces of Groningen (10 percent) and Drenthe (30 percent) and the municipalities of Groningen (26 percent), Assen (10 percent) and Tynaarlo (4 percent). Among other things, the funding was intended for a new terminal, a new fire station and safety facilities. Ten million was set aside for establishing new destinations from the airport. Nordica and Flybe were receiving a contribution from this fund.

What happens if shareholders abandon ship?

In case the shareholders say ‘enough is enough’, then another candidate would be sought to take over, but not before depositing a considerable amount for the sale. Although the municipalities of Groningen and Assen had not yet made a move because of the fi nancial consequences, it was reported that both preferred to say goodbye to Eelde. It was also said that other shareholders would instead pressure the management to fi nd a replacement for Nordica. Marco van de Kreeke, the CEO of Eelde, could end up being the man to receive the blame for the departure and for having made insuffi cient efforts to attract northern business travelers to Eelde. Indeed, the number of business travelers on the flights to Copenhagen and Munich was reported to be below expectations. “We are optimistic that another airline will offer these routes to Eelde,” says Van de Kreeke. According to him, these connections could be successful with smaller aircraft, which can be run at lower cost.

Possible takeover of the airport?

Perhaps it is time for a takeover. The airport has been struggling for a while, even after the commitment from shareholders from 2017 and a long-term job extension plan, created over five years ago. It was reported that several companies were interested in a takeover, including the Virgin Group. Someone like Richard Branson might see an opportunity in the airport.

Eelde not a solution for Schiphol overflow

In 2017, following research reports, it was reported that a previously suggested plan for Eelde to relieve the pressure of the overfl ow at Schiphol was unfeasible. According to Hans Alders, Lelystad Airport was seen as a real solution and a suitable destination for holiday traffic. Following the report, Eelde and Maastricht Aachen Airport, which were earlier considered as alternatives, urgently appealed to parliament, with Maastricht speaking at the hearing and Eelde sending a letter.

Corendon deciding to expand at Maastricht

Also in 2017, Corendon Airlines gave another blow to Eelde when it decided not to expand there, but at Maastricht. The choice of Maastricht over Eelde was said to be because the former has a larger hinterland. There was also the problem of fi lling the fl ights, due to the small population living near Eelde. Corendon had to look for another airport because Schiphol was full. Steven van der Heijden, the Corendon CEO, said: “Almost no one lives around Groningen, so everything points to Maastricht. Logically, this is an important part of our future. Sixty percent of the Belgian and 40 percent of the Dutch population live within a good hour’s drive from here. From Groningen it is twenty minutes longer to southern Europe than from Maastricht.”

Although opponents, who for years have deemed the regional airport as offering no added value, would be happy to see Eelde close, the business community and the tourism sector still regard Eelde as an important element for the development of the region.