BNN ANALYSES | Operator of Lithuania’s airports rolls out its master plan until 2052, but experts are dubious

Linas Jegelevičius
Lietuvos Oro Uuostai (Lithuanian Airports, LTOU), the operator of Lithuania’s three airports, has unveiled a master plan to invest a whopping 250 million euros between 2025 and 2052 in further development of the country’s airports in Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga.
However, knowledgeable persons that BNN spoke to were unenthusiastic about it.
“The presented plans are, for now, more of a political declaration than a real action plan, especially when we are talking about a 30-year period,” Artūras Zuokas, the former mayor of Vilnius and one of the most avid supporters of a national airline in the past, told BNN.
The LTOU 2025-2052 plan also envisions investing 180 million euros in the reconstruction of the existing Vilnius airport terminals and the construction of new ones until 2052.
Preliminary estimates suggest that investments at Kaunas Airport could reach around 50 million euros following the completion of the terminal expansion which will start this year, and around 20 million euros more could be invested in Palanga.

LTOU CEO Simonas Bartkus says Vilnius Airport alone is expected to handle up to 13 million passengers per year in the future.

A new arrival terminal is to be built at Vilnius Airport by 2027, and the existing terminal is to be renovated by 2028 with commercial space, and an underground Rail Baltica station is to be built underneath it by 2030, he said.
“Within the framework of this project, we have been actively working with the designers of Rail Baltica, and all these changes and all this airport development are planned to provide for a very convenient connection of Rail Baltica with the airport underground, so that people arriving at the airport could basically access the airport directly from the station,” Bartkus told a press conference on Tuesday, the 9th of January.
Two more terminals are planned to be built by 2040, including one for Schengen and one for non-Schengen travellers.

According to Bartkus, LTOU plans to finance the projects with its own funds.

Asked by BNN to weigh in on the LTOU plans, Artūras Zuokas, the former mayor of Vilnius, who spearheaded the establishment of Air Lituanica, the city’s flagship airline back in 2013 and which was shut down by the next Vilnius mayor, Remigijus Šimašius and the-then Lithuanian Government, said: “The presented plans are, for now, more of a political declaration than a real action plan, especially when we are talking about a 30-year period.”
According to him, Lithuanian governments have never had an aviation strategy, although the country has three airports, a university that trains pilots, and several international companies that operate on a global scale.
“Meanwhile, the Latvian governments had a vision of aviation development and stubbornly pursued it,” Zuokas underscored.
He reminded that airline airLituanica was established by the city of Vilnius and private partners in 2013 and was a fully operational company with 14 direct flights. It was closed in 2015 by the political decision of the mayor of the city of Vilnius at that time.

“First of all, all three separate companies of Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga airports should have been merged into one.

They do not have to compete in the national market, but only in the region. This was done after only ten years. Vilnius Airport was supposed to be a city-type airport that would serve the capital’s connections with major European airports. Kaunas Airport, which had great development potential, was supposed to become the National Airport from which low-cost and long-haul flights are operated and also as a cargo hub,” Zuokas said.
“At the same time, we were negotiating a merger with airBaltic, which was logical and economically correct. Therefore, even now, I support the idea that the state of Lithuania becoming a shareholder of airBaltic. And at the same time essential direct flights to Vilnius and Kaunas would also be guaranteed,” he said.

He says the city of Vilnius and the state need a modern, architecturally attractive and functional airport.

“The construction of an extension chosen now will improve the situation, but these are yesterday’s decisions. The government did not have enough courage and strategic decisions to build a new airport in the same place and is demolish the existing one,” Zuokas emphasised.
The former mayor maintains that the existing building of Vilnius Airport and its several reconstructions were mistakes of inexperienced designers.
“Therefore, it is non-functional and expensive to operate. Besides there are limited opportunities to serve a larger number of passengers,” he said.
The main problem of Vilnius airport, Zuokas says, is

the lack of direct flights to the main European airports.

“Vilnius is dominated by low-cost airlines that fly more to vacation destinations. And most flights are actually operated at night, which most European ports do not allow,” he emphasized.
Asked by BNN which European airports could be the North Star for LTOU, he replied: “I like Copenhagen, Vienna, Venice airports. Riga and Tallinn are also good, which could be an example for Lithuania as well.”
Robertas Pogorelis, a dedicated traveller, author of two travel books and founder of the Lithuanian Facebook travel page Mokėk keliauti, told BNN that he has read media reports about the Lithuanian airport development plan.

“It is commendable, because the current terminals are too small in light of the increasing air passenger numbers.

The current Vilnius Airport arrivals terminal might be of architectural value, yet it is highly impractical, lacking space and cosiness. While the departure hall is more modern, it is often overcrowded. The airline offices are located on the third floor, whereas they should be easily visible and accessible for passengers. So as a frequent flyer I am very happy about the ongoing and planned expansion,” R. Pogorelis said.
According to him, even provincial airports such as Kutaisi in Georgia or Trivandrum in India, both of which he recently transited, have spacious modern terminals.
“Not to speak about the neighbouring Riga Airport, which is very convenient to transit and cosy to spend time in it,” he emphasized.

The Lithuanian Airports serviced more than 6 million passengers within the year 2023,

i.e. even 12% more than in the year 2022, which saw 5.35 million passengers. It is recorded that the number of flights also increased in 2023: it was 4.5 % higher than in the previous year and exceeded 53 thousand.
Most of all passengers had been serviced in Vilnius Airport – 4.4 million, where it made up 3.9 million passengers in 2022. Kaunas Airport serviced 1.3 million passengers in the previous year, and 1.16 million passengers in 2022. Palanga Airport serviced 307 thousand travellers, while 275 thousand passengers in 2022.

LTOU says that one of the main trends in 2023 was an increase

in scope of activities of traditional air carriers in the Lithuanian Airports. For example, Finnair company makes four flights a day from Vilnius to Helsinki already during winter season, Lufthansa conducts flights to Frankfurt twice a day, SAS carrier makes 19 flights per week between Vilnius and Copenhagen, 12 flights per week to Stockholm are already conducted.
Austrian Airlines make three flights per week between Vilnius and Vienna. Belgian carrier Brussels Airlines conducts four flights to Brussels per week. Polish air carrier LOT Polish Airlines makes up to 32 flights per week to Warsaw.
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