The impressive evolution of Lviv International Airport

  • The impressive evolution of Lviv International Airport
Issue 130, January 2020.
The impressive evolution of Lviv International Airport
 
Euro 2012 upgrade and years of record growth have transformed Lviv into Ukraine’s busiest regional airport.
 
In late autumn 2019, Ukraine's Infrastructure Ministry unveiled plans to transform Lviv International Airport into a regional transport hub. This envisioned expansion will see the addition of bus terminal facilities and a direct rail connection to the city's imposing Habsburg era Central Railway Station, representing the latest stage in Lviv airport’s evolution from end-on-the-line outpost to bustling Central European international gateway.
 
Ukrainian railway operator Ukrzaliznytsia is already working on preparations for the construction of a rail connection between Lviv International Airport and the city’s main railway station, with Kyiv's Boryspil Express set to serve as a model for the initiative. The Boryspil Express has proved hugely popular since its launch in November 2018, carrying around one million passengers during its first year of service. There is every reason to believe a future Lviv Airport Express will enjoy similar success, given the striking growing in passenger volumes the airport has experienced in recent years. 
 
Lviv airport set yet another record on 22 November 2019, reaching the two million passengers landmark for the first time. The airport ended the year with over 2.2 million passengers in total, making Lviv comfortably the busiest regional airport in Ukraine and placing it in third position nationally behind Kyiv’s Sikorsky and Boryspil airports. This represents an approximately 40% year-on-year increase on the figure for 2018, which was itself 48% up on the previous year. Overall, the number of travelers flying via Lviv has expanded tenfold over the past fifteen years since 2004. 
 
These figures are exceptional, even in the context of the unprecedented current boom throughout Ukraine’s air travel industry. Ukraine’s airports recorded passenger growth of 18.8% during the first ten months of 2019, with 20.475 million people in total flying to and from the country. This growth has been more or less consistent for the past four years, as new airlines enter the Ukrainian market attracted by the country’s expanding economy as well as the game-changing June 2017 advent of visa-free travel to the European Union for Ukrainian passport holders. 
 
Thanks to a range of local factors, Lviv International Airport is currently growing at approximately twice the national rate. Lviv has emerged over the past decade as one of Central Europe’s most dynamic tourism destinations, while the city also serves as a hub for the wave of economic migrants who have moved to Poland and other EU destinations since 2014 in search of higher salaries. These twin trends are evident in the list of the airport’s most popular international destinations, with the growing Ukrainian community in Poland helping to make Warsaw the top route, while Turkish tourists have helped place Istanbul in second position. 
 
All this is a long way away from Lviv International Airport’s former life as a lazy provincial outpost for much of the Soviet and early post-Soviet periods. The airport originally dates back to the interwar years of the early twentieth century when Lviv was part of Poland. Built in the 1920s, the first Lviv airport officially opened in 1929 with flights to Warsaw and Krakow. The inaugural international service connected the city with Romanian capital Bucharest, followed by the launch of flights to other regional destinations such as Sofia and Athens before the outbreak of WWII.     
 
Following WWII, the Soviet authorities constructed new terminal facilities in the 1950s. This infrastructure remained in use until 2010, when the airport underwent a major upgrade as part of Lviv’s preparations to serve as one of four Ukrainian host cities during the UEFA Euro 2012 European football championship. The USD 200 million redevelopment of Lviv International Airport ahead of Euro 2012 included a major runway extension and the construction of an entirely new terminal complex that quadrupled the airport’s capacity from around 500 passengers per hour to 2000. The new-look Lviv International Airport also underwent a rebranding and took on the name of King Danylo, the medieval ruler credited with founding Lviv in the mid-thirteenth century. 
 
With new state-of-the-art facilities in place, the quaint Soviet-era terminal building was retired from service and remained mothballed for a number of years. However, with new airlines touching down in Lviv on an almost monthly basis and rapid year-on-year growth in passenger numbers, the 1955 vintage facilities reentered service in summer 2019 to take some of the pressure off the new terminal by handling domestic flights and charter flights.