- The transportation sector marked growth in 2022, driven by high prices and an increased workload.
- The representation of freight forwarding companies in the rankings has become increasingly prominent.
- Aviation began its recovery, and the cost of maritime transport plummeted.
In 2022, the transportation sector in Bulgaria increased its revenue on the back of higher prices and increased workloads driven by strong demand. The pandemic, port congestion, China's lockdowns, and the war in Ukraine caused disruptions. Despite fluctuations, transportation chains returned to normal, and hopes are high for 2023, albeit with challenges. The top 20 companies in the sector saw 30.3% revenue growth last year, exceeding inflation. Notably, Discordia, led by Hristo Hristov, with 419 million levs (214 million euro) in revenue and a 53% growth rate, overtook the traditional leader, PIMK.
Discordia has been steadily growing, with 35% of the growth reported for 2022 coming from increased activity and 15% from rising fuel prices and other expenses. Late 2022 saw a lower-than-expected demand in European markets, causing profit contractions. The company expanded its truck fleet to nearly 1400 vehicles and aims to reach 1800 by the end of 2023, with revenue expected to exceed 600 million levs.
PIMK's revenue increased by 22% to 343 million levs in 2022. Co-owner Iliyan Filipov described it as a challenging year but noted an uptick in domestic bulk cargo transport that compensated for reduced international transport. Founded by Filipov and Penko Nestorov, the group started in automobile transport and expanded into railways through PIMK Rail, freight forwarding, concrete plants, quarries, and construction, focusing on the latter. The third-largest road haulier with nearly 200 million levs in revenue is Petko Angelov BG.
The big freight forwarders
In the freight forwarding sector, Gopet Trans secured the top spot among logistics companies with revenues of 335 million levs in 2022, growing by almost 30% on 2021. They provide comprehensive transportation solutions across Europe, including regular departures to Turkey and the Middle East, intermodal transport linking Southern and Western Europe, maritime and air transport services. Second among freight forwarders is Schenker Bulgaria, a part of DB Schenker, generating 173 million levs in revenue for 2022.
The third major freight forwarder is Unimasters Logistics, led by former sea captain Nikolay Bozhilov, which posted a remarkable revenue growth of 41%. Established in 1990, the family-owned company now operates globally, offering a wide range of transportation, logistics, and related services.
Topping the list of rapidly growing transportation companies in 2022 is World Transport Oversize - Bulgaria (WTO) owned by Nikolay Nikolov. With 206 million levs in revenue, WTO achieved a spectacular 126% growth rate in 2022. WTO positions itself as one of Eastern Europe's fastest-growing logistics companies, with a presence in multiple countries, specializing in maritime consolidation services from Asia to Eastern Europe.
In maritime transport, Bulgarian Maritime Fleet owned by the Domuschiev brothers Kiril and Georgi recorded a revenue growth rate of 96% and close to 73% profitability in 2022. Operating 32 ships in the Handysize segment, the company transports various goods like agricultural produce, sugar, fertilizers, cement, timber, and steel products. While charter rates reached record levels in 2021, 2022 saw fluctuating prices that dashed hopes for a repeat of the previous year's scenario.
In 2022, the largest revenue-generating port operator in Bulgaria, BMF - Port Burgas, owned by the Domuschiev brothers, welcomed investment from the Three Seas Initiative's fund which acquired a 49% stake. The company holds concessions on bulk cargo and container terminals at the Black Sea port of Burgas. BMF - Port Burgas recorded 115 million levs in revenue with a profitability rate of 27% in 2022. The port served 863 vessels and handled 6.7 million tons of freight, including bulk cargo, liquid cargo, containers, and general cargo.
The aviation sector faced turbulence last year as it grappled with the challenges of a rapidly recovering demand. The state-owned Air Traffic Management company saw a 56% increase in revenues, handling 833 thousand flights, a 58% rise on the previous year. International flights to and from Bulgarian airports increased by 38% compared to 2021.
Factors such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a robust tourist season in Turkey and Greece, and the swift recovery of flights at Istanbul Airport contributed to increased air traffic. The closed airspace over Russia and Ukraine led to more night flights and a need for improved coordination between civil and military aviation authorities.
Fraport Twin Star Airport Management, the concessionaire of the coastal airports in Varna and Burgas, faced a different challenge. While they achieved a 48% revenue growth rate, the number of passengers dropped to 3.1 million, a 37% decrease on 2019 level. The optimism that existed at the start of 2022 was dampened by the war in Ukraine, resulting in a traffic loss and a 12% revenue decrease on Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian routes.
In the sky
The position of Sofia Airport is quite unclear as there is a gap in the ranking due to the lack of data on the financial results of the concessionaire, SOF Connect. The company has declined to disclose the outcome of its business development, having received an extension of the provision to pay no concession fees for the next decade. The Ministry of Transport, responsible for monitoring the compliance with the terms of the concession contract, also lacked this data. Consequently, the concessionaire is following a more opaque policy compared to the previous state administration of the airport.
The airport is currently undergoing a renovation, with a major overhaul of Terminal 2 expected to be completed by mid-2026. Several other major aviation companies such as Bulgaria Air, Cargo Air and European Air Charter did not provide their data for the ranking.