On August 31, SkyEurope went belly-up. After months and months of confidence-stripping events—bridge loans, terminated airplane leases, postponed financial statements, the granting of protection from creditors by a Slovak court, the refusal of several airports to service SkyEurope planes in light of unpaid fees—the airline finally called it quits.
For those of us following the ups and downs of European aviation, the airline's demise was no surprise. Most observers of Europe's low-cost airline scene have been predicting a wave of bankruptcies and mergers for a while now. SkyEurope's weaknesses were well documented, and were only exacerbated in the face of terrible market conditions. What was most remarkable was that the airline stuck around for as long as it did.
The bankruptcy comes at a generally really bad time for European low-cost carriers, and there are plenty of commentaries that interpret SkyEurope's fall as the first paragraph of the next chapter of European LCC history—a chapter that will end with three or four big budget airlines battling for the euros, kronor, lei, and hryvni of budget-minded travelers across Europe, with a handful of much smaller specialist budget carriers accommodating underserved regions. (A side-question here, though one not unrelated to the issue at hand: which are the three or four big LCCs that will be left standing? Norwegian, Ryanair, easyJet, Germanwings, Vueling, Wizz Air, and Air Berlin all have either sheer size, customer loyalty, or underserved destinations going for them. But a changed terrain consisting of three to four big players would mean that several of these airlines would be absorbed.)
If only the biggest will survive, then the question of what will happen to SkyEurope's abandoned routes becomes the most crucial one. Who will benefit most from SkyEurope's demise? The buzz so far seems to be that financial gain is Ryanair's for the taking, but Wizz Air has strong links in Central Europe as well.
The most distinctive dimension of SkyEurope's route map was its inclusion of Bratislava, Kosice, and Poprad-Tatry on its route map. Several of the routes the airline flew before folding remain unduplicated.
The biggest gap has opened up at Bratislava, where over two dozen destinations were previously served by SkyEurope. Ryanair has three new routes scheduled for autumn inauguration: Bratislava-Bologna, Bratislava-Rome Ciampino, and Bratislava-Liverpool, while WizzAir has just one, scheduled to take off later this month, a Bratislava-Rome Fiumicino link. Ryanair already flies many routes in and out of Bratislava, and is doubtlessly best placed to expand.
Kosice, a much lower-volume airport, has truly been left in the lurch by the departure of SkyEurope. The airline flew between Kosice and Istanbul, Rome, Manchester, Paris Orly and London Luton. SkyEurope also flew a London Luton-Poprad-Tatry route.
Thus far, an airline called Danube Wings has announced a number of new routes into both Kosice and Poprad-Tatry, though the ground opened up by the disappearance of SkyEurope is still wide open. The biggest and most likely budget airlines have thus far failed to bite. The next few weeks should be interesting.