Radom Airport in Poland: The Expensive Monument to Local Authorities’ Megalomania

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Is a ghost airport a symbol of economic nonsense or financial mismanagement? These terms have been used to describe Radom-Sadków Airport located in Central Poland. In the last few years, the investment of the city local authorities has become a jeering synonym of wastefulness and megalomania of Polish public sector. In the middle of April 2016, after a long period without any passenger, new airline routes were launched. Will this new chapter in the history of the airport lead to its development and recovery from financial losses? Or will it end as dramatically as in the past and convince Radom’s authorities that their pigs cannot fly?

Radom Airport was funded mostly from the city budget. In 2007, European Commission announced that it is able to support financially only one project of an airport in the Mazovia Region with the best prospects. And so the choice was obvious: Warsaw-Modlin Aiport. Despite many critical opinions about building another airport in the region, Radom authorities decided to use taxpayers’ money and adapt a military airbase to civil transportation, which so far has generated costs of around EUR 30 million. It is not the end of the local authorities’ plan – they are going to extend the runway and install the ISL system in order to service bigger aircrafts in the future. Additional expenses would not be surprising, if the profitability of invested capital was certain. However, it is not, which makes Radom bureaucrats’ financial decisions highly controversial.

Unfortunately, Radom Airport will probably never become profitable, but it has already generated substantial costs, such us maintenance of 120 employees. 1 million passengers per year is the minimum number, which allows airports to achieve profits, as shown by the experts from the International Air Transport Association. During the first year of an ”operation” (2014) Radom Airport has not seen any passenger. A year later, they managed to serve about 800 passengers, which is embarrassing even when compared with some other unprofitable airports in Poland. It is worth to mention that Radom Airport’s business plan assumed that in the years 2014-2015, it will serve around 270,000 people. Data from last two years leave no doubt that this figures has been wishful thinking.

It is worth considering what are the reason of this public investment failure. At first glance, Radom Airport seems to be a well-equipped airport with good prospects in the heart of Europe. It is also the only airport in Poland that has a runway illuminated with LED lights. In the future, authorities are planning to extend the runway and install the ISL system. So what is the major problem? Mainly its location.

There are four other airports – Warsaw-Chopin, Warsaw-Modlin, Lodz and Lublin – no further than 150 km from Radom. This fulfils the regional market needs so Radom cannot become another transportation hub. It should be emphasized that the main factor for airlines deciding to cooperate with an airport is the size of potential market and proper location, which provides required number of passengers. Airlines are not going to run unprofitable business in Radom, as the examples of Czech Airlines and Air Baltic have shown. The two airlines abandoned the idea of running any flights to and from Radom, mostly because of almost no passengers. Other important factors for airlines when choosing destinations are infrastructure and airport fees, but it is not important when the basic condition is not fulfilled and the number of potential customers is simply insufficient.

In April 2016, a new airline has entered Radom Airport. Polish company Sprint Air, previously specialising in cargo transportation, decided to focus on the passenger operations between smaller municipalities. Now we can fly from airports in Radom, Zielona Góra and Olsztyn, which were highly unprofitable so far. The question is, whether these flights can become an alternative to improving railway connections and road infrastructure. The market will verify.

The attitude of local authorities in Radom resembles that of a man who plays in a casino hoping to get a great sum of money and fame. After each loss he ignores the fact that his chances to win are really small and continues “investing”, thinking that he would be on a winning streak someday. Whenever he achieves a tiny success, he is under a delusion about better life and convinced that he can repay his debts. Unfortunately, it turned out that the Radom Airport is another public investment failure, a proof of sheer megalomania of local authorities.

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Maciej Orczyk