Poland’s new airport to become Central European hub

TAMAS KOVACS

To cope with rising air traffic through Warsaw, the Polish government will build a new central airport. The Central Transport Hub, as it is called, has become the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party’s key infrastructure project. Named after the Solidarity trade union that helped topple communism in Poland in 1989, it is due to open in 2027. 

According to a government resolution adopted in November 2017, it will “a profitable, innovative transport hub that will [be] one of the world’s ten best airports.” Building on Poland’s location between east and west, the airport could become a hub for millions of passengers from Poland and far beyond. 

The airport will take over from Warsaw’s Chopin Airport, the largest airport in Central and Eastern Europe in terms of passengers. Traffic at the airport has been rising, increasing by one-quarter between July 2016 and July 2017. In 2017, it served 15.75 million passengers, slightly more than Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport, according to Airports Council International. As traffic continues to rise, the airport’s capacity will be met in a few years’ time. 

To meet that capacity, the government plans to build a new airport between Warsaw and Łódź, in central Poland. One of the municipalities being considered is Baranów, 40km west of Warsaw. Built on around 3000 ha of land, the airport will have an initial capacity of 45 million passengers a year, which will later increase to 100 million. Air and railway traffic will be integrated into a single hub. Passengers will be able to reach the airport via new, high-speed train connections to Warsaw and other major cities. Road infrastructure around the airport will be developed, too, linking to the nearby motorway. The government envisages the creation of a “new town” by the airport, featuring a business park and congress centre with a regional significance.  

Poland’s location, on key east-west international routes between Asia and America, benefits the investment, the government highlights. LOT, Poland’s national airline, has been steadily increasing its range of long-haul connections. Last year, it started flying to Los Angeles, among other new routes. This month [May], it launches direct flights to Singapore, offering a stepping stone to the rest of south-east Asia and even Australia and it has also begun operating long-haul flights out of the Hungarian capital Budapest. In this context, LOT has greeted the government’s plans with enthusiasm. The new airport “is a civilizational project for the entire country,” LOT’s CEO Rafał Milczarski told PAP in an interview in November. “In terms of aviation we have an outstanding geographical location and the Solidarity Port will not have any of the development problems that we currently face at Chopin Airport,” he added.

The new airport makes economic sense, according to the Polish government. Right now, Poles fly four times less than the average inhabitant of western Europe but the number is set to rise over the next two decades, as Poles get richer, the resolution adopted in November argues. “Without the Central Transport Hub, Poland will not have a competitive offer on the aviation market comparable to countries in Western Europe, and our country will be condemned to the second league,” it concludes. The new airport could boost GDP growth, too, it suggests, citing the examples of Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris and Madrid-Barajas. The broader economic benefits could include new jobs and drawing investors to Poland, it says. The Central Transport Hub itself is expected to cost up to 30-35 billion złoty (7.1-8.3 billion euros), according to an official estimate. 

For now, the project is at an early stage. A special law on the Hub adopted by the government on 26 April sets out the rules and conditions for preparing, funding and executing the project. The location will be announced in mid-May. Amid opposition from some of Baranów’s residents, who want to hold a local referendum on the construction of the airport, the government has stressed that most of the land for the airport will be purchased via voluntary negotiations, rather than expropriation. After that, construction is expected to begin in 2020. 

A special-purpose company will be established to coordinate and control the project, working with Mikołaj Wild, deputy minister of infrastructure and government plenipotentiary for the Central Transport Hub. The government does not rule out involvement by companies from abroad. “We are open to foreign entities too, but it must not only be beneficial for the investment itself, but also for the Polish economy,” Wild told TVP Info on 4 April.