A little more than two years after SOF Connect, a company of Meridiam investment fund, was awarded the concession of Sofia Airport and pledged to start revamping and extending the facilities in 2023-24, changes are not yet visible. But CEO Jesus Caballero says the project is going according to plan and construction works will begin by the end of this summer.
Bulgaria's biggest airport serviced 3.5 million passengers in the first six months of 2023, up by 35% year on year. However, the figure was still 0.7% below pre-pandemic numbers.
The big renovation of Terminal 2, which is supposed to accommodate the traffic from the older Terminal 1, has to be completed by mid-2026. It includes more than 50 separate projects. Then a new Terminal 3 will be built next to it and the two will be integrated. The entire facility is planned to be completed by 2030. Terminal 1 will be ultimately closed for commercial flights in 2025-26. It will only be used for general aviation and private jets.
The reconstruction of Terminal 2 will be designed by Bulgarian architectural and engineering company IPA. It will partner with 1PAX, a French architectural firm, and with the consultants from EGIS Avia, a global leader in the design and engineering of airports and aviation infrastructure, according to a press release by Sofia Airport.
The concessionaire recently said the airport has the potential to serve 100 new destinations, based on big data analysis. The strategy for connectivity expansion follows three lines. One is the connection with major hubs like Istanbul and Munich to ensure that passengers can reach any point in the world with one transfer. The second line is the development of direct shorter-distance flights (point to point), with the focus being on low-cost airlines. The third one is connected with the expansion of tour operators' charter flight programmes.
Work on a new 20 million levs worth baggage handling system is already under way. A contract has been signed with France's Alstef Group. The current capacity of the system is just 500 pieces of luggage an hour, which could be a bottleneck for the expanded airport. The new system will be able to handle 4,000 pieces per hour. It will also use new technology like electromechanical belts and 3D equipment to speed up the process. The number of check-in desks will increase from 34 to 50, with the new zone expected to be ready in 2024.
Another bottleneck at present is the security check and passport control area, as the facilities were designed before 9/11 and were not quite adequately adapted for the new requirements. The problem will be solved in stages and in the end the security check will be moved to Terminal 3, where the flows of checked-in passengers from Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 will merge.
A new 2,000 sq. m. commercial area will be built after the passport control points with a walk-through shop and a food court. Last spring Switzerland's Dufry was awarded the management of 13 shops for a period of eight years and a half. The tender for the food court has attracted five offers, with the contract expected to be signed this summer. The toilets will also be renovated.
Three new jet bridges will be purchased to increase boarding capacity, providing flexibility to airlines and convenience to passengers.
In late May the concessionaire received offers for the rehabilitation of the multistorey parking facility in front on Terminal 2. The project costs more than 10 million euro. Before work on it can begin, a new place has to be found for the 800 or so cars that currently park there. Therefore SOF Connect has decided to begin with the construction of three permanent outdoor car parks with more than 1,100 spaces. The contract valued at 4 million euro has been awarded to local construction company Glavbolgarstroy.
Taxi service at the airport is now provided by Yellow, which replaced OK Supertrans at the end of June. As from 2025 the company will have to operate at least 5% of the rides with electric cars. The share will rise to 10% a year later.