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The Upcoming Polish Megahub: A Vision or A Delusion?
The local mega-hub
Recently, Centralny Port Komunikacyjny (the Central Port of Communication) has published details of the Airport Master Plan – a general overview of the mission and vision, traffic forecasts, options and airport development concepts.
It is a planned transfer hub to be located between Warsaw and Łódź in Poland. This megaproject, backed by the Polish government, is set to integrate air, rail and road transportation in Poland. The intent is there to create a catchment area including all the largest Polish cities and allow the passengers to reach the airport with a railway in less than 2.5 hours. The location is also conveniently close to the crossing of two major highways in Poland – A1 running from north to south and A2 running from west to east.
All that is to allow for more of the transportation value chain to stay in the country and create the biggest economic hub of this sort in the region. Planned rail developments, across separate initiatives, are also stretching outside of the country and reaching the Baltics, with Rail Baltica, and Ukraine – both adapting the European rail gauge.
The buildup in the number of passengers
The airport is planned to commence its operations in 2028 with an annual capacity of 40 million passengers. The expected expansion, adding the third runway, will take the total capacity up to 65 million passengers annually in 2060. While it might not be enough to battle airports like Frankfurt or London Heathrow by the nominal numbers, it will have a significant impact on the whole Central and Eastern Europe region. Warsaw-Chopin airport is already a major connector for traffic bound for North America and Asia.
Currently, Warsaw-Chopin airport is running out of capacity, reaching 18.9 million passengers served in 2019. Estimated capacity amounts only to 20 million passengers annually, but as the airport approaches the limit, fewer and fewer desirable timeslots are available.
Warsaw-Modlin airport, currently the second biggest airport serving Warsaw, surpassed the pre-pandemic record from 2019, reaching 3.12 million passengers in 2022. It might be nearing its capacity as well. In the three years before the pandemic the results stagnated around 3 million. This year Ryanair’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, expressed his confidence that, with a proper investment, the airport could reach the capacity of 6 million passengers.
The third airport in the area, Warsaw-Radom, has been operating for only one year and therefore is not contributing much to the statistics yet. Furthermore, growing with a diversified operating carriers portfolio might prove more challenging than it was in the Warsaw-Modlin case with Ryanair exploiting the one-sided deal. The third airport of Warsaw might reach 1 million passengers carried only in 2026, as per the Polish Airports vice president and there are no more optimistic forecasts stated in public.
With those three airports acting as a primary passenger base for the Solidarity Transportation Hub – are the predictions about 40 million passengers in 2028 accurate?
A step function in growth
The Master Plan brings the estimate of around 28 million passengers in 2028 as a base case scenario. Visibly, the base case scenario is not far from the high case scenario of nearly 30 million passengers. This is quite a simple outcome when considering the three airports’ capacities. Even given the Warsaw-Modlin expansion materializes and assuming some efforts to expand Warsaw-Chopin airport, the cumulative capacity of the three of more than 30 million passengers a year is far-fetched. The authors of the Master Plan assume not only that the capacity materializes, but also that the passengers will follow – almost to the extreme. Nevertheless, this corresponds to a mere 6% annual passenger growth when considering the whole area, which is a mediocre level of growth.
Passenger traffic forecast for CPK. (Source: CPK Airport Master Plan)
At the same time, when the transition of traffic from Warsaw-Chopin to the Solidarity Hub takes place we might expect some explosive growth. It was not uncommon in Europe, for similar airports in terms of annual passengers served, to grow at the rate of 11-14% annually in years leading up to 2020. With LOT Polish Airlines as a local hub-and-spoke carrier and both Wizzair and Ryanair treating Poland as their local focus market, the growth opportunity is there.
Annual passengers carried by the relevant airports in the last 10 years. (Source: annual reports and published data)
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