Author: Mariglen Murrja
Air Albania was introduced by the Albanian government as a promise of lower prices for customers, but 10 months after the first flight, the company cannot be called low cost nor did it affect competition in the market to reduce high ticket prices.
Both, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Infrastructure pledged an end to the “salty prices” of airlines and “the quality of an excellence company”
“Air Albania is an Albanian company that was created to offer cheaper prices at a low cost, but offering the quality of an excellence company.” Minister Belinda Balluku was quoted on September 30th 2019.
However, up until the moment of this article being written and published (March 2020) Air Albania has not operated a single day as a low-cost company.
Wizz Air can be considered as a “low cost” company operating in the Albanian territory, which started flights from Tirana on December 19, 2019. With this line, you can book a one way ticket to Milan (Bergamo) for 15 Euros, eg on April 22, or 25 euros a few days afterwards.
A recent observation showed that a ticket to Air Albanian destinations is often the 4th/5th in price ranking. Tickets range from an average of 85 Euros (9,500 ALL) on the Economy Promo class and during holidays prices go up to 420 Euros (50,000 ALL) for a trip to Rome.
1.For a round trip to Milan, Italy with Air Albania, a ticket costs us almost 12,000 ALL more than the cheapest price. And it is listed 5th in the price range.
These prices not only do not belong to a low cost company, but they do not increase competition with other airlines to reduce ticket prices.
2. For a flight to Rome with Air Albania, a ticket is again more expensive.
In this case travelers pay 8,000 ALL more than the cheapest offer. And it is in the 3rd / 4th position in the list.
3. Next destination – Istanbul, where Air Albania has partnered with Turkish Airlines.
Here we cannot book with the name “Air Albania” but with “Turkish Airlines.”
But even though there is a partnership between the Turkish state and Turkish Airlines, Albanian citizens still have to pay 10,000 ALL more for a ticket to Istanbul.
4. Same can be said for the Tirana – Bologna destination, be it for round trips or one way only. Even on this destination Albanians pay more if they want to travel with Air Albania and rarely are there any dates where Air Albania tickets can be found at a cheaper price than its competitors.
The launch of two major companies, Wizz Air and Easyjet, seems to be what has brought down prices of airline tickets.
Wizz Air offers flights to 10 destinations (Vienna, Budapest, London, Bologna, Munich, Milan, Pisa, Bergamo, Venice, Verona). While Easyjet from May 1, 2020 will offer three flights per week to London.
The ticket price for Air Albania remains unchanged even after announcing the addition of the new “Naimi” aircraft.
Air Albania, turmoil since day one…
Air Albania was officially established on May 16, 2018 and made its first flight on April 19, 2019. It was created through a collaboration between the Albanian and Turkish governments under a public-private partnership. Turkish Airlines, a founding partner, owns 49.12% of Air Albania. The remaining 50.88% is publicly owned, currently split between Albcontrol, a corporation owned by the Albanian government, with approximately 10%, and MDN Investment, a privately-owned company in Albania, with approximately 41% of the shares.
Today Air Albania owns 2 aircrafts [Migjeni, Lasgushi] and flies to 5 destinations.
On March 29, 2020, was promised that the third aircraft Naimi will fly to Verona, Bergamo and Pisa.
But since the day of its establishment and until February 2020 very little concrete facts and information has been made public about the Air Albania airline project and public information requests are ignored by the institutions.
The Government never explained what competition was held and the criteria for selecting MDN, which has no prior experience in the air travel field. In the NRC excerpt we see that MDN was registered as a company on May 7, 2018 just 9 days prior to the establishment of “Air Albania”.
On the other hand, Albcontrol is also a state-owned agency and not a profitable enterprise, as it operates on the principle of charging air fares based on the principle of cost recovery. This implies that AlbControl invests in technology and operations to cover the obligation to provide aircraft accompaniment to the aircrafts that cross our airspace, and this costs are attained by fees set to the lines using this space. The law does not provide for Albcontrol to make profitable or loss-making investments.
With the creation of Air Albania, Albania opened a debate on the compliance of the Stabilization and Association Agreement it had signed during the accession process to the European Union: https://europeanëesternbalkans.com/2019/04/09/ec-evaluate-possible-violation-eu-albania-saa/
Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn stated on April 9, 2019 that he had raised this concern several times in all of the meetings with Albanian officials.
“The Commission is aware of complaints about a possible breach of the EU-Albania Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) in connection with the construction of the airport in Vlora and the creation of the Air Albania airline. According to the SAA, awarding public contracts on the basis of reciprocity, especially in the context of the World Trade Organization, is a key objective. The Commission has regularly emphasized this fact in its discussions with the Albanian authorities,” reads the EC statement.
Hahn emphasized that the European Commission will launch an investigation over the coming months on “Air Albania”.
“A broader and deeper assessment of the public procurement and competition / state aid framework in Albania is already planned through various technical commitments in the coming months,” the statement said.
“Article 74, paragraph 1, [of the SAA] provides that “the parties consider a desirable objective the liberalization of public contracts on the basis of the principle of non-discrimination and reciprocity. In this context, the special law adopted, which selects a company without opening any tenders, raised concerns regarding the adherence to the above-mentioned principle of non-discrimination and other EU public procurement principles, such as equal treatment, non-discrimination and free competition.”
Failure to comply with the SAA has been one of the reasons why the Netherlands was skeptical of opening negotiations with Albania.
Despite the debates that accompanied Air Albania’s “founding”, the fact remains that consumers continue to pay for expensive tickets.
Plain tickets from the Mother Teresa International Airport are the most expensive in the region and evidently contrasted to flights from neighboring airports such as Pristina, Podgorica, Skopje or Ohrid.
Air Albania – apart from reviving Albania as a name in aviation – has not fulfilled its commitment to lower prices for Albanians.