Adria Airways - The airline of Slovenia
As the political situation in Yugoslavia deteriorated towards open armed conflict it signalled yet another chapter in the turbulent history of Adria Airways (click here to visit the page). In 1990 Adria was one of only three airlines in Yugoslavia and was still struggling to find its true niche in the market, a true identity, when Yugoslavia imploded in 1991. The following months of conflict and confusion would result in Adria once again changing its structure and commercial direction and the airline would start to evolve one last time, to become the successful and respected airline that became the Slovenian national carrier in 1991. Nowadays Adria Airways is the biggest airline in Slovenia, predominantly owned by the Republic of Slovenia.
Many consider that any airline will reflect the country. Adria Airways does, there can be no doubt, mirror Slovenia. Small but efficient, ambitious and friendly, trying to adapt to a relatively new found freedom, an expanding market, but always conscious of the obvious limitations of the small country and restrictions of a fickle industry.
Bordering Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia is located at the very northern end of the Adriatic Sea and it is this that gives Adria Airways its identity. Slovenia did not totally escape the brutality of the war as Yugoslavia tore itself apart but was thankfully spared the horrors of ethnic cleansing and abject violent brutality, the images which were witnessed by the world and left a legacy of mistrust and trepidation that even today, haunts both commercial and politically, many of the regions of the former Yugoslav Federation. Recognised as the most culturally advanced republic of Yugoslavia, not long after independence, Slovenia, with a stable government and an educated population for whom the change to democracy came easily, was internationally recognised. Slovenia joined NATO and the EU in 2004 and in 2008 assumed the presidency of the EU. The road to political stability and recognition is something that has had both a direct and indirect influence on the airline.
Adria Aviopromet was formed as a charter airline in 1961 and initially equipped with 4 former KLM DC6B aircraft. Seven DC6’s made their way to the YU registration from Holland and surprisingly three are still extant. YU-AFF (44553) is displayed in joint Inex Adria Aviopromet and Adria Airways colours at Brnik Airport, nowadays named Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport. YU-AFA (45563) and AFB (45564) (Yugoslav Air Force aircraft) in new livery are maintained in flying condition in Austria (N966DM) and South Africa (V5-NCH) respectively.
The DC6 aircraft flew intercontinental routes to North and South America, Africa and the Far East, contracted by European travel agents. What is more some work was undertaken on contracts for the Red Cross and the United Nations. Via the Zagreb hub Adria transported Yugoslav emigrant workers on flights linking many major Yugoslav cities with the industrial cities of Germany.
Whilst the DC6 aircraft provided sterling service they were dated at a time that many airlines were re-equipping with jet aircraft. In April 1969 Adria became part of the Interexport Group based in Belgrade in a commercial partnership that allowed for the funding of the new aircraft and Adria ordered DC9 aircraft in the late 1960’s. DC9-32 YU-AHJ (47239) was delivered in April 1969 and was the first of eleven DC9 series 32, 33 and 51 that would join the fleet over the next 8 years. YU-AHJ stayed with the airline, becoming SL-ABF and S5-ABF before being sold in March 1999, today it remains active in the Philippines. The charter business would remain the core of Inex Adria operations although with the arrival of a “Quick Change” DC9 so charter cargo operations began and the now re-named Inex Adria Airways continued to receive DC9 aircraft to operate on charter flights, the last DC9-51 (YU-AJU) arrived to the airline in May 1977. Series 32 S5-ABH (YU-AJF) was the last DC9 to fly with Adria, leaving the airline in December 1999. The holiday boom of the 1970’s saw Yugoslavia and the Adriatic coast becoming increasingly popular and Adria being contracted by European Travel Agencies to fly tourists to and from resorts such as Dubrovnik, Split and Pula (Resorts that are today in Croatia) Inex Adria established a well deserved reputation as a reliable airline and became a member of IATA in August 1985. Ever increasing demand saw four MD81 and a single MD82 aircraft arrive between 1981 and 1986 and these were to provide the backbone of the fleet even beyond the arrival of the first Airbus A320 in 1989. Adria Airways was the European charter airline, which introduced the Super 80’s into its fleet. The MD aircraft were to stay with the airline after the conflict that lead to independence and the last service was in December 1995. The McDonnell Douglas fleet were popular aircraft with the airline, crews and passengers alike and allowed for scheduled flights within Europe to be considered and in 1983 Adria commenced scheduled services, flying to Larnaca via Belgrade and 1987 services were added to Munich, Paris and London.
Inex Adria, anxious to expand the charter business leased a number of aircraft during the 1970’s and 1980’s. In April 1972 DC8-55 N806SW (YU-AGB ntu) arrived to fly on a new transatlantic route although, with low passenger loads, the project was short lived and the aircraft was returned to Seaboard World in October the same year. Having decided to concentrate on European charter business the airline still suffered the problem of having to lease aircraft to cope with demand during the busy summer months, not being able to justify the purchase of more aircraft as winter load factors remained low. Caravelle (F-BRUJ) served the summer of 1975 and Boeing 727 (YU-AKD) operated in 1980. A number of BAC1-11 aircraft supplemented the fleet during many of the summers during the 1980’s. However the charter business was far too seasonal and Inex Adria, looking to improve load factors and profitability in the low season, established a number of scheduled domestic routes within Yugoslavia, linking Ljubljana (the republics capital and today the capital of Slovenia) with Belgrade, the federal capital and other regional capitals such as Sarajevo and Skopje as well as larger towns and resorts such as Split. In January 1984, just before the the Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games, two Dash 7 aircraft were acquired to serve on some of the regional services, including services from Maribor and Portoroz. At present neither of these airports feature in Adria’s route system.
The airline left the Inex group in March 1986 and reverted to the name Adria Airways. By the end of the 1980’s Adria was firmly established; charter business was increasing as more of the population were able to enjoy holidays abroad, the aircraft became familiar sites at the airports around the Mediterranean and beyond. Under forward thinking management fleet modernisation was being considered; five Airbus A320 were ordered and options taking on a further three aircraft. By 1990 the delivery of three Airbus aircraft was complete (the first one YU-AOA then S5-AAA, delivered in 16.05.1989, was the first A320 powered by the new IAE engines) and Ljubljana was linked to additional European destinations and everyone at the airline looked forward to consolidating the existing business and further expansion. Passenger figures slowly increased in the late 1980’s but these figures reduced in the face of political instability. In 1987 Adria carried 1,343 M passengers on 21,000 flights, there were only 17,200 flights in 1988 and fewer passengers as the economy declined and just over 1, 2 million were carried in on 15,000 flights in 1989. In 2007 Adria carried 1,136 M passengers.
In December 1990, a referendum on the independence of Slovenia was held. Nearly 90% of people voted for separation from the Federation. This decision was not well received in Belgrade. Political pressure was enormous and when both Slovenia and Croatia declared independence on June 25th 1991 retribution in Slovenia was swift but thankfully brief; the Yugoslav Air Force strafed Ljubljana Airport on June 28th and rocket fire extensively damaged both 2 Dash 7’s, A320 YU-AOE (S5-AAC), which was less than a year old and DC9 YU-AHW also suffered minor damage. Troops also fired on the airfield facilities and damage from rocket and small arms was caused to the Adria maintenance facilities. The Federal Airport Authorities effectively closed the airport at Brnik the day after the declaration of independence, citing technical deficiencies. With only 4 aircraft trapped at Brnik, Adria continued to operate from Zagreb but on July 5th ceased all operations; most of the aircraft remaining abroad. Slovenia did not endure the same fate as neighbouring Croatia and avoided a long-drawn-out conflict. Brnik remained closed until July 26th but by the end of the month Adria was flying a reasonably complete schedule, including a weekly flight to Belgrade. The damaged Airbus left in August for Toulouse, flying the 700 miles at a height of 3,000 m and airspeed of 250 knots. The Dash 7 aircraft followed, flying via the UK and Iceland to Calgary. Anxiety remained high, towards the end of August a Ugandan 707 and Rumanian Tu154 were intercepted in Croatian Airspace by Yugoslav Air Force MiG 21’s. The Tu154 had been due to join the Adria fleet on lease but the 707 was carrying arms and both were duly seized. By October the political relationship between Ljubljana and Belgrade had deteriorated once more and the Federal Transport and Communications Secretariat made the public announcement that it was unable to supervise the maintenance of the Adria aircraft and on October 24th, in an obvious political sanction the AOC (Air Operators Certificate) was revoked. Adria appeared grounded and indeed the following day cancelled all domestic traffic but stated that it would continue to fly international services from Klagenfurt, however the Austrian Aviation Authority prohibited such flights together with the over flying of Austrian territory. Adria was grounded again.
The relationship with Yugoslavia failed to improve through 1991 but a decision had to be made regarding the future of Adria. With many destinations within the war zone services needed to be reduced and it was recognised early that once peace was established so these countries would form their own airlines or, like Slovenia, adapt the existing carriers to the new situation. By early December permission to new airlines in the former Yugoslavia had been granted but Adria remained firmly grounded. (Croatia Airlines (formed as Zagal in 1989) was leasing an MD82 from Adria to provide internal services within Croatia during 1991.) The lull in operations had allowed for the required repairs to damaged aircraft but facilities were minimal and with the airline grounded Adria had to lay off staff. In agreements with the workers over 650 were laid off on 70% pay whilst 200 carried on administrative duties and keeping the aircraft maintained.
Prior to the conflict 90% of Adria business had been charter traffic but afterwards majority of charter destinations to the Adriatic coast had become inaccessible because they were then on the territory of other countries. The airline was operating a trio of Airbus A320’s, the five MD were still current, and three DC9 remained as did the two Dash 7 turboprops. All were now transferred to the new IATA prefix SL. ICAO and the International Telecom Union approved the national prefixes and SL was already “in use” having been the call-sign for Swedish Radio Hams after the war. After SL had been in use for just a year the S5 prefix, previously reserved, was adopted and remains in use today.
Late in 1991 the German Aviation Authority had recommended to Belgrade that the AOC be returned to Adria but to no avail and just before Christmas Belgrade informed Adria that the aircraft were to be removed from the register. The newly registered aircraft with the short-lived SL prefix were re-insured on December 26th (exactly one year after the results of the independence referendum had been announced) and with the Austrians agreeing to oversee the maintenance of the fleet with the exceptions of the A320’s which would be supervised in Germany. Therefore Adria made plans to start flying on January 8th 1992. At the last minute the Yugoslavs objected to the supervision of the Slovenian airspace so on January 16th, 52 days after being grounded Adria flew from Klagenfurt to Moscow and to Frankfurt. The following day the Airbus was air tested in Toulouse and on the 18th returned to Klagenfurt. On January 21st. following Austro-Slovene agreement, the restrictions on the air border were lifted and after calibration Brnik re-opened on the 30th, flights to London, Paris, Frankfurt and Moscow taking place the following day. The Yugoslav authorities remained troublesome and on February 2nd informed the EU that any bi-lateral agreements between Yugoslavia and the EU that concerned Adria are null and void and the following week ICAO was advised by Belgrade that it considered all agreements for air traffic control between Slovenia and Austria illegal and that operators must accept responsibility for their own safety whilst operating into Brnik. Adria flights to Munich re-commenced late February initially with a Cessna 441 Conquest (SL/S5-CAE) and later a Dash 7. The same aircraft linked Vienna and the Slovenia capital from February 23rd. Tensions remained high and the conflict no doubt created a great many difficulties for Adria and the staff but it without doubt helped shape and forge the Adria of today.
As Adria re-established air operations so changes in the fleet need to be considered and assessed in light of the new challenges facing of the airline. In 1992 with passenger loads slow to recover after the conflict Adria could not justify operating three A320’s and the remaining aircraft on order and the options were cancelled. Between 1993 and 1995 all three Airbus were leased out to Greek carrier “Venus Createn Airlines” for various periods. The older DC9 and MD aircraft were not easy to sell or lease out but they too slowly began to move on. The Dash 7, ideal for the regional flights within Yugoslavia are declared surplus to requirements, the routes they had been purchased to serve no longer existed and after the arrival of the first CRJ aircraft (January 1998) they were sold. The CRJ was preferred over the Emb135, Avro RJ, Fokker 70/100 and Dash 8 (Q400) and whilst the arrival of the CRJ had an immediate and positive effect on passenger services, with a range being similar to the A320, the smaller aircraft did not have the cargo capacity and there was an immediate reduction in cargo tonnage carried on routes where the CRJ replaced the Airbus. Adria re-defined the cargo aspect of the business on a number of occasions and in September 2006 two newly converted Saab 340AF freighters were acquired. S5-BAM and BAN operated flights to Paris and Liege and cities in the former Yugoslavia. However, in September 2007 Adria decided to halt these services and the SAAB aircraft were withdrawn from service and made available for sale. Currently cargo is carried on existing aircraft. By the winter of 2002 Adria was operating five CRJ aircraft on an ever expanding network in Europe and manufacturer Bombardier selected the airline for the site of its first, and to date only, heavy maintenance base on the continent. Brnik is often the temporary home to many CRJ aircraft from all over Europe whilst they undergo maintenance, refitting and refurbishing. Adria Tehnika is licensed to carry out all standard maintenance on CRJ 100, 200, 700, 900 and 1000 aircraft and Airbus 319, 320 and 321. In addition cabin refitting, structural, power plant and undercarriage and other major work and modifications are also undertaken in the hangers at Brnik.
With entry into the EU Adria expanded its routes. The CRJ aircraft particularly operate a heavy cycle rate and maintenance is vital not only for the obvious safety of the aircraft but to maintain the tight schedules which the airline operates. An aircraft out of service can have a serious detrimental effect on a small fleet. Thus each and every night the aircraft undergo the equivalent of the 72 (calendar) hour check, ensuring that the aircraft are available as required the following day. (A typical daily schedule of a CRJ might see the aircraft depart early morning for Vienna, return and fly south to Pristina. By midday the aircraft will be on its way back to Brnik and will depart in the afternoon for Frankfurt, return and then depart to over night in Istanbul. Most CRJ will fly 9-10 hours per day.) A three shift 24 hour rota is maintained with line maintenance undertaken on the apron and within the extensive maintenance area located near by should the need arise.
Engineers joined the airline from university, technicians from High School and in accordance with a long established policy Adria looked to train in-house and sustain a policy to ensure that all personnel could work on every one of the fleets’ aircraft and on third party aircraft. Upon the arrival of the CRJ900, engineers were signed off by the manufacturer in Canada then the Slovenian CAA before Adria began to train staff on site. Many of the Chapters are common to both CRJ100/200 and the 900; therefore engineers were trained and signed off quickly. The airline proudly boasts that it was one of the first in Europe to receive the IOSA Safety Certificate in 2004.
During 2007 the Aircraft Maintenance Division carried out service inspections and maintenance work on 94 aircraft owned by other airlines (66 CRJ type aircraft and 28 aircraft from the Airbus family), and in so doing generated earnings 28% higher than the calendar year 2006, exceeding planned turnover for the year by 17%.
After independence Adria had made every effort to improve collaboration with other European airlines; an initial agreement with Lufthansa in 1996 to code-share on flights to Munich and Frankfurt was followed by an agreement with Austrian. Currently all flights between Ljubljana and Vienna are operated by Adria. Star Alliance membership was the next logical step and Adria became a regional member in December 2004 (full member since January 2010), today there are also code-share agreements with Aeroflot, Air India, Air Serbia, Brussels Airlines, Montenegro Airlines, LOT, Swiss, SAS and Ukraine International. Cooperation with the latter was also evident in 2006 and 2007 in that Adria leased two 737 aircraft from Ukraine International. In March 2006 737-500 UR-GAS arrived and in March 2007 737-400 UR-GAV joined the fleet, being returned to the Ukraine in the fall. The 737 were popular and although offering less capacity than the 168 seat Airbus they served well on the heavy load routes and charters, on which they were joined in the summer by two CRJ900 aircraft. In November 2007 Adria announced purchasing CRJ1000 NextGen and two more CRJ900. The next year the order of CRJ1000 was converted into CRJ900. In March 2009 Adria ordered two 135 seat Airbus A319 aircrafts which had to replace A320s. A320s were sold to Myanmar Airways International in October and December. In November 2010 new Adria's headquarters at Ljubljana Airport were opened. In 2010 Adria got two A319s and decided to withdraw from service A320 (S5-AAA).
In 2011 Adria Airways has begun a rigorous reconstruction program that includes all business processes and activities. All its shares in Adria Tehnika were sold.
In 2013 Adria carried 1026839 passengers on 19,509 flights. The average load factor was 73,16%. Currently Adria is operating 12 aircraft: 1 Airbus A320 (180 seats), 2 Airbus A319 (135 seats), 5 Canadair Regional Jet CRJ900 (84/86 seats), 4 Canadair Regional Jet CRJ200 (48 seats). It employs 390 people. Today Adria flies to over 20 cities on scheduled flights from Ljubljana, Pristina, Tirana and Munich and a number more on charter contracts.
Adria Airways (it's logo shows the azure “A” being reflected in the turquoise waters of the Adriatic) embodies many features characteristic of Slovenia: hospitality, friendliness and high-quality services. Together with a professional, caring staff and a modern fleet, Adria Airways is committed to provide a high level of service and satisfaction, and to winning the loyalty of its passengers.
"Fly 4 Photo" would like to thank Adria Airways CEO Mark Anžur for his support and Igor Krušič from Technical Dispatch of Ljubljana Airport for assistance.
"Fly 4 Photo" would especially like to thank Adrijana Selj of Adria Airways Public Relations Division for her contribution in arranging our visit in Slovenia, giving the opportunity to collect all the materials used in all publications, her hospitality, helpfulness and friendliness, which made our visit a pleasure.