How Bergamo Became Europe’s Low-Cost Hub
Milan Bergamo airport is one of Europe’s most prolific low-cost carrier hubs. With extensive operations from airlines, including…
Milan Bergamo airport is one of Europe’s most prolific low-cost carrier hubs. With extensive operations from airlines, including Ryanair and Wizz, the airport has driven its own success through tenacious development and laser-focused strategy. Here’s how it happened.
Perfectly positioned for growth
Milan Bergamo is an affluent area of Italy. With the major city of Milan to the west and the rich industrial Brescia to the east, the economic profile of the region is strong. But, back in the early ’90s, it was not supported by a strong airport. Despite being open since 1971, passenger traffic was limited to a few regional connections and the odd charter flight.
Giacomo Cattaneo, Director of Commercial Aviation at SACBO, the airport operator at Milan Bergamo Airport, told Simple Flying how things were back then.
“We lived in the shadow nearby Milan Linate. Linate was by far the second airport of Italy after Rome Fiumicino, so we had a very tough time. We had to convince airlines that although the airport was small, although the infrastructure was not that attractive, that the area was powerful and, potentially, you could generate a lot of traffic for both inbound and outbound.”
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The tenacious attitude of SACBO (the acronym for Società per l’Aeroporto Civile di Bergamo – Orio al Serio – Milano Bergamo Civil Airport) saw significant investment in the airport in the mid-1990s. In November 1995, SACBO launched a three-year plan which saw around 80 billion lire plowed into the airport. This included the extension of the terminal, two new boarding piers, new check-in desks, and new offices for staff.
The airport was finally ready to take off, but it needed airlines.
Becoming a low-cost hub
In 2000, the airport made the move that would solidify its future. It took the strategic decision to position itself as the perfect low-cost hub, something that would become even more important following the events of 9/11. Through the development of relationships with airlines and its laser focus on removing unnecessary excess, Bergamo finally secured the contract that would serve to shape its future.
On Saint Valentine’s Day 2002, Ryanair departed Frankfurt Hahn airport with 80 young engaged couples onboard. One couple married right there on the flight before landing at Milan Bergamo for the first time. Two months later, flights between London and Bergamo began with the Irish low-cost, proving to passengers and airlines alike that Milan Bergamo was a top choice for a low-cost airport in Northern Italy. Cattaneo explained,
“The first airline to significantly and massively invest in terms of capacity in our airport was Ryanair. This allowed us to progressively use the potential of the power of the area.”
Of course, one airline does not a hub make, but where Ryanair goes, others swiftly follow.
The arrival of more low-cost carriers
From the arrival of Ryanair and its subsequent establishment of a base at Milan Bergamo, the airport underwent exponential growth. Having struggled to achieve a million passengers at the end of the ’90s, in 2003, passenger traffic hit a high of 2.7 million. The low-costs began to flock to the airport.
By 2004, Hungarian powerhouse Wizz Air joined the airport, complemented by a number of smaller airlines including Transavia, Air Berlin, Hapag Lloyd, Flybe, Bmibaby, Jet2, and many more. While, sadly, many of these carriers are not with us anymore, others have jumped in to fill the gap. Cattaneo remarked,
“The airlines in the low cost market were the first to trust us, and they grew with us.”
Today, Ryanair remains the biggest airline at BGY, flying to 102 destinations from the airport. Wizz Air is the number two, with a network of 13 destinations. Also present in significant numbers are AlbaStar, Blue Panorama, Blue Air, Volotea, Air Arabia Egypt, Alitalia and Neos, to name just a few.
Passenger traffic topped out at almost 14 million last year. It is now the third biggest airport in Italy. Thanks to Bergamo’s unique strategy of forming a hub and spoke, low-cost focused operation, its swift post-COVID recovery and continued long-term growth is assured.