Italian pilgrims revive the airport in Mostar

Medjugorje boom in Italy brings much needed life to Mostar Airport where a new route to Pescara contributed to a successful 2011. More Italian destinations are announced for 2012 but the need of major investments to meet international demands is lurking on the horizon. In Medjugorje, a new local road is expected to relieve the town from traffic.

mostar airport medjugorje pilgrims

The first of nine flights from Pescara arrives in Mostar on September 17 when the Mostar-Pescara route was also announced to become permanent as of 2012. Photo: Bljesak

They come in bundles, in buses, by ferries and cars, and now they even bring an airport back to life. Medjugorje is booming among the Italians and the rush across the Adriatic Sea has effects that go beyond Medjugorje.

2011 will see Mostar International Airport more than double the passenger numbers of 2010 when 17,833 people took off or landed in the airport 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Medjugorje. By the end of November 2011 this number had been raised to 35,329 according to statistics from Bosnia and Hercegovina’s Directorate of Civil Aviation.

The year started out slowly with no passengers in February and 696 in March. In April, the airport was enhanced with new equipment that played prominently in that month’s rise to 2,193 passengers, followed by 4,029 in May.

Another turning point came on July 23 when Mostar mayor Ljubo Beslic signed a contract of nine flights from Pescara, Italy, the first one scheduled to arrive on September 17.

pescara mostar

The travel time by plane between Mostar and Pescara is less than an hour, the distance being 312 kilometers (193 miles)

“I think that the realization of this project is of great importance for Mostar, but also for the whole region of Hercegovina. We have the possibility of international connectivity, since Pescara is well connected with other parts of Europe, especially when it comes to low-budget carriers, thus offering opportunities for cheaper travel” the Bosnian newspaper Dnevnik quoted mayor Beslic to say after signing.

“We hope that this will be the start of beneficial practices that will be expanded” the Mostar mayor added.

And so it was: When the first airplane landed from Pescara on September 17, a regular route between the two cities was also announced for 2012. So was a route to Naples, and on November 15 market-leading Irish low-cost company Ryanair announced a route to Mostar from Montechiari Airport close to Brescia in northern Italy, to be on the wings from 2013.

The first pilgrims from Pescara on Sep 17. Photo: Bljesak

With Italian pilgrims now enabled to fly from Pescara, on certain days this Autumn the airport in Mostar accomodated 500 passengers, a number otherwise unseen in recent years when the airport has been struggling to attract operators. In September 8,432 passengers passed through the terminal, a rise of 127 percent compared to September 2010. October saw the same percentual rise, November a rise of 100 percent.

As of December 1 the airport in Mostar has handled 5,75 percent of the total number of 2011 travelers through the four airports in Bosnia and Hercegovina, up from 3,02 percent in 2010 and enough to achieve second place ahead of the airports in Banja Luka and Tuzla, but still far behind Sarajevo Airport that handles roughly nine out of ten airline passengers in and out of Bosnia and Hercegovina.

Marin Raspudic

Mostar Airport CEO Marin Raspudic

CEO: Major investments are required

While estimating Mostar International Airport to have a near-future potential of 100,000 passengers per year, almost three times the number of 2011, airport CEO Marin Raspudic also saw clear warning signs ahead. On September 20, the Croatian daily Vecernji List reported that, “for several months”, Raspudic had been “warning Mostar’s city authorities”, so far to no avail.

The airport is owned by the city, and so the airport CEO was addressing his employer when talking about the imminent need of major investments, necessitated by the expected arrival of an international aviation commission whose demands could soon be thought to exceed the city council’s economic capabilities. What Marin Raspudic asked for was a strategic partner:

Toward the sunset? The need of new investments could mean harder times ahead for Mostar Airport

“Next year we expect a major increase in traffic but the city of Mostar must be determined about the airport in Mostar. Without investments, strategic partners and key decisions Mostar Airport will not continue to prosper, and we have showed that we have potential. But in two years Mostar Airport must pass the licensing of the international commission. If it does not meet the required conditions, the airport will be threatened by closing” CEO Marin Raspudic told Vecernji List.

“We can reach the figure of 100,000 passengers but when the international commission comes, and we have to change the runway, expand a platform, and buy new machines, the city will not be able to, and the airport will be closed. I urge everyone to react in time and be alert to this problem” Marin Raspudic further said.

mostar airport

Mostar International Airport

A current online media enquete shows an active airport to be ranking high on local wish lists. HercegBosna, a portal for Croatians in Bosnia and Hercegovina, is inviting viewers to answer the question “What should Mostar have first?”.

With 4,094 viewers’ votes cast, on December 14 the option “a busy airport” holds second place with 23 % of the votes, topped only by “a new tv channel” (28 %). Other options are an oncology specialty for the hospital (15 %), a McDonald’s (12 %), a multiplex cinema (10 %), a zoological garden (8 %), and skyscrapers (3 %).

By the seaside, the international shipping company Blue Line also got its share of the Medjugorje boom in Italy. The company noted a 10 percent increase in passengers across the Adriatic compared to 2010, the Croatian business news portal business.hr reported on December 11.

New road to spare Medjugorje from traffic

medjugorje road construction

Early road construction work in the outskirts of Medjugorje, October 2011

In Medjugorje, two infrastructural projects stand out by the end of 2011: One is the ongoing work on a new local road from the bridge near the post office.

Once completed, the new road “will significantly unburden traffic in Medjugorje” director Marina Barbaric told local news portal Brotnjo Online on October 25. Mrs. Barbaric is heading the company overseeing the work, JP Broting of Citluk.

To be 1350 meters long and 7 meters wide, the road will be merged with the future Citluk ring road and the regional road Citluk – Capljina, in time connecting Medjugorje with the Bosnian and Croatian highways.

Citluk mayor Ivo Jerkic recently mentioned the construction of sewers in Medjugorje as the municipality’s second big current infrastructural project. Work on the sewers will begin in 2012, Jerkic said.

Minister of transport Ilija Cvitanovic

Within a similar time frame, an all-new, modernized road between Medjugorje and Mostar has high priority with the new county government, its minister of transport and communications Ilija Cvitanovic told the Mostar-based daily Dnevni List on December 5. Asked by the paper to pinpoint “the most neglected piece of transportation infrastructure in the county”, Cvitanovic pointed to the Mostar – Medjugorje road:

“A special emphasis at this point, within the first year in office, should be put on the road Mostar – Citluk – Medjugorje. This road is one of the most frequently trafficked, and there is always something being done to it, but it really needs a complete quality reconstruction” the county minister of transport told Dnevni List.

 

Spirit Daily circulated this story