Vienna’s Skylink Open for Business

It opened years behind schedule and way over its original budget target but now it is operational, Vienna’s Skylink terminal extension will undoubtedly serve the Austrian capital well.  Tom Allett reports.

After a much-delayed beginning, Stage 1 of Vienna’s Skylink terminal regeneration got off to a successful start on June 5. (VIE)

Vienna’s Skylink terminal extension has had a difficult birth.  It was conceived before the aviation industry was hit by the shock of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the USA, and had a troubled gestation period.
The whole industry stuttered for a while and many major projects stalled, at least temporarily.  The Skylink’s deadlines were among those that slipped, and managers came and went, but, like most major airport projects, Skylink’s importance to Vienna’s long-term future meant that there was no turning back.
My first visit to the airport in connection with Skylink and the airport’s wider Vienna 2015 project was in February 2002.
Back then, the airport’s primary cause for concern was the reduction in services by Austrian Airlines and its subsidiaries which, like most other carriers, were then suffering from the effects of 9/11.  However, at that time it was still envisaged that Stage 1 of the Skylink project would open in 2006, at a cost about €220 million (US$277m), though the opening date was soon revised to 2008.  The foundations for the extension were eventually laid in January 2006.  Subsequently, several planning and building issues arose causing it to be delayed even further and the completion process of Stage 1 didn’t get under way until February 2010.
The facility was given a trial run involving approximately 3,200 passengers and some 1,800 arrivals and departures before its three check-in gates, and new arrivals hall opened for business on June 5, 2012.  Around 37,000 passengers were handled on the first day.  The airport’s management team states that the final cost was “under €770 million” (US$970m), all of which was funded by the airport itself without any state aid.
The new facility doubles the terminal’s available space over three levels, using vertical connections to achieve short transfer times.  It’s a one-roof concept: the whole airport under one roof, with a minimum connecting time (MCT) of 25 minutes.  Its glass façade with its integrated ‘sunglasses’ provides a fine view of the outside world – including the Alps – and gives it a light, open and stress-reducing ambiance.
Vienna Airport (IATA: VIE) is keen to be the primary European hub for passengers seeking transfer flights to Eastern European destinations.  Its close proximity by road to Bratislava and its 25-minute MCT to all destinations make it a realistic gateway to the Czech Republic and beyond.  VIE has similar ambitions for the Middle East.
Vienna handled over 21 million people in 2011 and, when the Skylink is fully developed, it should push the airport’s annual capacity to 35 million a year.  Currently, the split between business and leisure traffic is approximately 40% – 60%.
As this edition went to press, Vienna’s new Pier West central security control zone (CSCZ) was due to open.  This will streamline the departure process for those leaving via its B and C Gates by either guiding them through the CSCZ and into the pier’s shopping and food and beverage area or allowing them to go directly to their departure gate.  The existing security control lines placed directly at the pier’s gates will then be removed.  Looking a little further ahead, a government environmental impact study concerning a planned third runway is expected to announce its findings in the next two months.