Sofia Airport: successful take-off towards European integration
In order to take full advantage of the single market and to assist its economic development, Bulgaria absolutely had to modernise and extend the international airport of its capital city, Sofia. This has been achieved through European pre-accession aid.
Bulgaria has been preparing for nearly seven years to become a member of the European Union. During this time, it has benefited from pre-accession aid under the Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession (ISPA), which focus exclusively on the improvement of transport infrastructures and the creation of facilities to enable European environmental standards to be respected.
Built in the 1940s less than ten kilometres from the city centre and with its single terminal, up until a few years ago Sofia airport looked more like an oversized bus station than an international airport. As the main point of entry for business clientele and tourists into the country, it has benefited from European aid to build a new terminal and deal with the continued increase in the number of travellers.
Over 2.5 million passengers per year
Several phases of the expansion and renovation work on the existing installations made it possible to cope with the increase in activities until the 1990s, but economic development and the scheduled entry into the European Union have made it necessary to build a new terminal and an additional runway. To give a rough indication, over the first half of 2006 the airport’s managers recorded a 20% increase in the number of planes landing and taking off at Sofia, compared with the same period in 2005, i.e. 18 412 flights accounting for nearly 1.05 million passengers, which also represents a 16.5% increase compared with 2005!
This development had already been envisaged in 2000 when the new terminal was designed. Opened in December 2006, during peak times it can accommodate up to 20 flights and 2 000 passengers simultaneously. Over twelve months, no less than 2.6 million travellers will use these new facilities.
The work has taken nearly three years, given that the terminal consists of three separate parts: the main building, the finger and a car park. The central building mainly houses passenger services, access checks, the offices of airlines and all the other administrative and technical services. It covers an area of 50 000m2. The finger extends from the central building some 210 metres and leads to six gates which provide access to the air bridges. This work required the construction of new aircraft parking aprons which enable two-way circulation of planes. The car park, a few hundred yards from the terminal, has four basement levels and a total capacity of 820 spaces. To facilitate the connection between the new terminal complex and the city, a new dual carriageway was built stretching one-and-a-half kilometres connecting to the “Brussels Boulevard” (sic).
Completed at the end of 2006, the works have provided the Bulgarian capital with an ultramodern airport in line with traffic requirements and fully compliant with the safety and security standards defined by the European Union and the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
The new terminal and additional runway are undeniably going to improve the efficiency and performance of the airport in Sofia. The expansion in trade and tourist visits in the medium to long term should contribute to the economic development not only of the capital city, but also the entire country.