Bulgaria’s outgoing Cabinet has decided to extend the deadline for bids in the tender to pick a concession operator for the country’s largest airport in the capital city of Sofia, according to a statement posted on the Transport Ministry’s website. The new deadline is May 19, with bids due to be opened on May 22.
This is the fourth postponement in the long-running saga, which Bulgarian officials had initially hoped to have concluded in the spring of 2016, according to the tentative timeline from October 2015, when the government announced its intention to offer the airport on concession.
But the tender announcement was delayed to June 2016 after plans to modify the concessions law to allow for longer concession contracts (under the current law, such contracts cannot be longer than 35 years), ran into opposition in Parliament.
The initial deadline for bids was September 2016, but it was extended – first to give interested parties more time to prepare their offers, then after the resignation of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s government in November, to avoid accusations that the Cabinet was handing such a major contract just before leaving office.
With early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria expected in late-March or early-April, the country is likely to have a new government backed by a parliamentary majority in the newly-elected National Assembly by the time that the current deadline for bids expires.
However, it is far from certain that the next government will decide to go ahead with the tender, especially if the socialist party – currently in opposition, but rising in opinion polls – is part of the next government coalition. The party has previously criticised the tender, claiming that the minimum concession fee asked by the Borissov government was too low.
When it announced the tender, the Transport Ministry said that the most important factor would be the size of the concession payments, which would account for 55 per cent of the final score. The ministry would only consider offers that include an upfront payment of at least 550 million leva (about 281.2 million euro). Annual concession fees must be no less than seven per cent of the airports revenues, but also no lower than 9.95 million leva a year.
It total, the ministry said at the time that it was expecting to receive concession payments worth more than 1.2 billion leva over the concession period. Additionally, the winning operator will also be required to invest no less than 306.5 million leva in the airport’s infrastructure over the period of the concession. This should include the construction of a new Terminal 1 with seven jetways, with an annual passenger flow capacity of at least three million people.