Last winter was not good for Vienna International Airport. It's not that the airport suffered a major slump in traffic--quite the contrary. Passenger throughput increased by 15% in the cold weather months Jan. 1-March 31 on the year-ago period, while aircraft movements rose by 11% year-on-year.

However, the number of delays increased as well. The main culprit: Bad weather. "We had a hard winter last year," confirms VIE Deicing Manager Wolfgang Hasil. "In the six months from October 1, 2003, through March 30, 2004, we had a total of 137 days of deicing, we deiced 4,197 aircraft and sprayed just under 1.5 million litres of pure deicing fluid." This compares with 117 deicing days, 3,918 deiced aircraft and 1.3 million litres of deicing fluid in winter 2002-03, which in VIE statistics is classified as a "normal" winter.

Deicing capacity includes nine Vestergaard Elephant Beta deicing trucks, four remote deicing positions and three standby positions. For 4-5 years this proved to be sufficient, until last winter. "We faced deicing bottlenecks," admits Hasil. "We could not follow the demand, which caused delays and affected the efficiency of Austrian Airlines, which operates a hub here. They asked us to increase our deicing and anti-icing capacity to avoid a repeat of the problem."

Of course VIE wants to keep its main customer happy, but equally it wants to maintain its reputation as a fast transfer hub, points out Executive VP-Corporate Communications Hans Mayer. For the coming winter season, VIE Handling Services, a business unit of Flughafen Wien AG, is adding two new Vestergaard deicing trucks, one scheduled to arrive in September, the second at the beginning of December.

The number of deicing positions also will evolve. "We had four pads for widebodied aircraft," says Hasil. "We will create an additional position by replacing two widebody positions with three narrowbody positions." With long-haul representing only 10% of the airport's passenger traffic and an even smaller percentage of aircraft movements, the change seems sensible. Additionally, one widebody requires four deicing sprayers while the ground service provider has only nine, soon 10, available. Therefore, it was impossible to deice or anti-ice three widebodies at the same time.

The deicing positions are located close to the runways used most for takeoff, but "we'll have to rethink the location of the deicing pad if a third runway is built," notes Mayer.

In a shorter-term timeframe, the airport is considering expanding its deicing infrastructure with an additional four positions by winter 2005-06. It also is planning to move the deicing fluid refilling station closer to the deicing area. Currently the station is about 1 km. away from the deicing pad and close to the terminal, but construction of a terminal extension, which starts in March, will necessitate vacating the present premises.

Simultaneously with its relocation, foreseen for 2006 or 2007, the refilling station will move underground. Now it is aboveground. It has a total capacity of 300,000 litres--180,000 of Type 1 fluid and 120,000 of Type 2. VIE Handling Services uses Type 1 in three different concentrations--40% fluid/60% water, 50%/50% and 60%/40%--depending upon the outside temperature and level of contamination of the aircraft. Type 2, used only in 100% concentration, is employed to avoid the refreezing of wings and stabilizer. "Although some captains request deicing with Type 2 fluid of the fuselage, this is not standard procedure at VIE," notes Hasil.

"Last winter in mid-season we changed to a new Type 2 fluid, which increases the holdover time by about 30%," he adds. "This was requested by Austrian," but the airport's other main customers were asking for it as well. The new Clariant Safewing MP 2 2025 Eco is operationally better, he explains; "as it is yellow, you can see the fluid flow and spot which parts the sprayer might have missed."

Although some new equipment is on order, VIE at present has enough tools and machinery to keep its runways, taxiways and aprons free of ice and snow, says Gerhard Frenner, manager-emergency and breakdown services. The winter service unit is one of four under his direction. Last winter season his team had to combat about 1.5 m. of snow, about double the year-earlier season and 10 times more than in winter 2000-01 but the average of the last 35 years. "The conclusion is we can't extrapolate. Snowfall is very irregular at Vienna," Frenner says. To clear the airport's 2.1 million sq. m. of runway, taxiway and apron surface covered with 1-2 cm. of snow takes 12 hr.; sweeping, blowing and plowing 5 cm. of snow requires 36 hr.

Yet snow is not his main winter headache, fluctuating temperatures are. "Most of the days in winter, temperatures will go from zero degrees Celsius or below to above zero to under zero again. Normally we have some hours of sun strong enough to melt the snow. But in later afternoon, early evening the thermometer drops again and everything freezes. Ice is our biggest problem." Last winter VIE measured 30 mm. of ice and "each millimeter of ice is work for us."

East, West, Home's Best

Vienna is a focused airport. "We position Vienna Airport as a hub, especially for east-west traffic," Management Board Member Herbert Kaufmann tells AE&T. "Our main competitors are Munich and Prague. Munich has a strong position as a Star Alliance airport and Prague is increasingly gaining momentum as an east-west hub for SkyTeam." According to preliminary data provided by ACI Europe, VIE boosted passenger throughput in the first five months of 2004 by 20.1% to 5.4 million, MUC grew passenger totals by 8.6% to 10.2 million and PRG gained 38.5% to 3.3 million. Vienna realizes Munich is a threat as its main user, Lufthansa, weighs more heavily in Star than home carrier Austrian Airlines.

Yet the airport is determined to increase its market share and grow traffic. "We have set a goal to improve our competitive position by 15% over our neighboring competitors Budapest, Prague, Munich, Frankfurt, Zurich and Milan before 2007," reveals Kaufmann. "We want to improve our attractiveness for airlines and safeguard our position as a hub. This does not mean our tariffs to airlines will decrease by 15%; however, based on 2003 price and volume data we will pass on eur20-eur30 million in cost savings to our customers by 2007. This improvement potential will be generated by continued above-average growth, process optimizations realized together with airlines and general cost reductions."

As part of its strategic target of east-west hub, VIE maintains a twofold incentive scheme. "We have incentives to support transfer traffic and we offer a discount on landing fees for new destinations or additional frequencies for long-haul and to Eastern Europe," notes Kaufmann.

The transfer incentive includes an eur8 refund per transfer passenger to the airline of a total passenger fee of eur13. Transfer passengers last year represented 33.9% of the airport's total throughput of 12.8 million and increased 3.2% on 2002. Transfer passengers in the first half of this year rose 24%.

To attract new long-haul routes or services to Eastern Europe, the airport offers landing fee discounts of 80% for the first year, 60% the second year and 40% the third year. To encourage additional frequencies to existing long-haul and Eastern Europe destinations, it gives discounts of 60% the first year, 40% the second year and 20% the third year. Long-haul in 2003 represented about 10% of departing passengers and increased 1.7% despite SARS and the Iraq war. In the first half of 2004, long-haul represented 13.6%. "The increase was driven mainly by Austrian Airlines, which started new routes to, e.g., Shanghai and Singapore," says Kaufmann, adding that Austrian increasingly feeds from the market around the city, "especially east of Vienna."

Departures to Eastern Europe increased 26% in the 2004 first half, again "mainly driven by Austrian," he adds. "Eastern Europe is a natural market for us. We are better located than, e.g., Zurich as a gateway from Western to Eastern Europe. We benefited from the accession of countries like Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia to the EU in May and remain confident we will do so also with the next wave of enlargement of the EU. All the countries bordering the east of the EU are seeing a strong economic growth. We are participating and profiting in this." In 2003, airlines served 40 destinations in Eastern Europe from Vienna, 40 from Frankfurt and 20 each from Zurich and Munich.

To support its growth ambitions, VIE is in the midst of an expansion program that will see a eur722 million investment by the end of 2008. Construction of a terminal extension, the so-called Skylink project, will start in March and result in a 76,000-sq.-m. sickle-shaped facility east of the existing terminal and a new pier with 52 multifunctional gates (Schengen, non-Schengen, international). The north side of the pier will contain eight docking positions for short- and middle-range aircraft. Nine stations are planned for the south side, where up to five widebodies including the A380 can be docked through the use of two positions per aircraft. The strategic plan also calls for a new runway by around 2012.