Manchester Airports Group (MAG) said on October 3 that it planned to bid in the concession tender for Sofia Airport, in consortium with China’s state-owned Beijing Construction Engineering Group (BCEG).
MAG operates the Manchester, East Midlands and London Stansted airports. It is already partnered with BCEG on the Airport City UK construction project in Manchester.
“We are delighted to be partnering with BCEG on our concession bid. Our partnership together on Airport City UK is thriving. We bring a full skill set to Sofia – our commercial and operational experience and BCEG’s extensive construction skills and ability to deliver to the highest quality and standards,” Manchester Airports Group CEO Charlie Cornish said in a statement.
In its announcement, MAG touted its experience in increasing passenger flows, saying that since its acquisition in 2013 of London Stansted, Britain’s fourth largest airport has seen its annual passenger numbers grow by 40 per cent to 26 million.
MAG also pointed out its successful track record in “working with Middle Eastern hub to develop onward global connectivity from its UK airports via Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Muscat, which are all within 5 hours flight time of Sofia,” and said that part of its focus would be to introduce more flights to Western Balkan cities such as Belgrade, Zagreb, Sarajevo and Tirana.
At the same time, the involvement of BCEG, which MAG described as “one of the world’s top 250 construction companies”, would bring new opportunities for collaboration between Bulgaria and China, the company said.
“We see our involvement in our bid for Sofia Airport as an extension of the memorandum of understanding between China and Bulgaria as part of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. The project represents a real opportunity for us to further explore joint infrastructure opportunities,” said Xing Yan, regional director of BCEG International.
The deadline for submitting bids in the Sofia Airport tender is October 22, with MAG becoming the first operator to declare official interest in the 35-year concession for Bulgaria’s largest airport.
This is the second tender launched by Bulgaria’s government, after the earlier tender from 2016 was scrapped last year by a caretaker cabinet.
The delay has allowed the government to update the tender criteria and it has opted to set more ambitious goals for the future concession holder – instead of building a new Terminal 1 with seven jetways with an annual passenger flow capacity of at least three million people, it now requires building a Terminal 3, keeping the old Terminal 1, currently in use mainly by low-cost airlines, in operation.
The government has also increased its concession fee (at least 10 per cent of the airport’s revenues or 15 million leva, whichever is higher) after the airport saw a 30 per cent increase in passenger numbers in 2017, to just under 6.5 million.
(Manchester Airports Group CEO Charlie Cornish photo: magairports.com)