Friday, April 9, 2010

Bringing Life to Liepāja Airport

Liepāja airport saw a start of scheduled airBaltic flights in 2007 to Riga, later also to Hamburg and Copenhagen yet already in 2008 all of the routes were dropped. Also Russian Atlant-Soyuz Airlines offered short-lived service to Moscow Vnukovo between 2008 and 2009. This failure on sustaining flights is mainly due the superiority of Palanga airport located about 60km south of Liepāja. Palanga airport have better facilities and – even more important – better catchment area. Palanga itself is a seaside resort and the airport is easily accessible from Klaipeda city in south, Liepāja in north and a number of mid-sized towns in east. airBaltic actually switched Liepāja feeder route to Palanga in 2009 regardless of the existing SAS feeder route to Copenhagen, Norwegian service to Oslo and seasonal UTair link to Moscow. Is there any chance of attracting some services – at least a feeder route to BT hub in Riga? I think – yes. The main idea is to develop the airport as a true city airport with fast connections to all districts of the city and full integration in the transport grid.

The Key – a BRT line from Liepāja to Grobiņa
Grobiņa is the biggest suburban town near Liepāja just about 10km from the CBD. Currently a twice-hourly bus service is the main public transport link between Liepāja and Grobiņa and it runs on the highway by-passing Liepāja airport. My point is that building a 4km brand-new Bus Rapid Transit line and upgrading a number of other roads and streets would allow to substantially speed-up Liepāja-Grobiņa bus service. A secondary effect from this BRT would be notably improved connectivity of Liepāja airport as the station can be built right next to the passenger terminal. The completely new road section for the BRT must be built trough reedy wetlands on the northern side of Lake Liepāja so some environmental concerns may rise but, as this road is dedicated for buses, cyclists and pedestrians, the impacts can be hold under control. This routing also bypasses urban areas so the actual operating speed for vehicles will be higher.

Gateway for Cars and Bicycles
Usually airports are surrounded by Park&Fly car parks but they are not used (at least I haven’t came across) like Park&Ride sites. In the case of Liepāja a win-win situation can be created if those booth facilities are merged. P&R will be based on BRT and the increasing traffic will bringing even better connections to airport. For successful implementation of P&R system some push-back actions like big parking fees in CBD or congestion tax may be applied. The same parking lots can be used for P&R and P&F so more effective use and bigger turnarounds will lower the parking prices.
A cycle line can be built along the BRT line so connecting Grobiņa to Liepāja and also airport to Liepāja. Booth air and road visitors can be easily served by one bicycle rent in the airport and  - cycling used to reach the golden beaches and lively clubs.

The biggest advantage of the listed measures is that ground transport system will be fully independent from level of air traffic which is designed to be more re-active. I believe - if the scheme is realized – a stable air traffic will came back to serve Liepāja from city's closest and the most convenient airport.


  1. Your idea of combining Park&Ride and Park&Fly - is good for larger cities.

    In the particular case Park&Ride would be necessary if traffic jams were really a problem for Liepaja, but according to my experience normally it isn't the case. I predict that Liepaja's citizens would use Park&Ride if it was built next next to airport or in any other location.

    As regards the reason why the sales at Liepaja airport decreased so dramatically after the subsidies were cut off - poor bus or parking services plays little significance, rather the real reasons are little population, little purchasing power and little flow of tourists. Not only has Liepaja's region increase those three values to a sufficient level to make up a full airplane, but it has to fight with a very strong competitor - Palanga airport, as you mentioned (131,000 inhabitants in Liepaja region vs 382,000 in Klaipeda's dictrict, Liepaja sea resort vs Kursu Nerija & Palanga combined)

    Therefore I think only perspective for Liepaja airport besides state subsidies are either waiting 30 years until Liepaja gets very rich, or immigration of 60'000 chinese immigrants into Soviet Army's abandoned Karosta district in Liepaja, or maybe until then a new more efficient airplane fuel is invented!?

  2. Thanks for the comment!
    I am more optimistic about the possibilities of Liepāja airport - the market is big enough to launch feeder routes to at least one hub (most probably Riga, but Copenhagen, Stockholm or Warsaw could work too). My idea was to make it a true city airport and focusing on Liepāja rather than on the region (This is the weak point of Palanga airport - big catchment area but town airport only for 18000).
    True that bussiest passenger market from Liepāja is Riga and there is small chance of getting significan air passenger numbers on this city pair under true market pricing regardless of the access time to Liepāja airport. On the other hand - P&R, BRT and bike line can be effectivelly used for local transport leaving the airport services secondary.
    airBaltic has expressed an interest in re-launching Riga - Liepāja as a regular feeder; the plan initially was for 2010, now pushed to 2011.