A transformation takes place at Airport Sliač, Slovakia

posted on 27th June 2018

Airport Sliač in the Slovak Republic is undergoing a transformation. Today it has a longer, better runway with modern lighting and a refurbished, extended apron, as well as a refurbished tower. This airport – with its long and complex history – has prepared itself for the next stage of its operation as a true commercial airport at a strategic location and with plenty to offer

The people of the Zvolen region – in which the airport is located – were well acquainted with aircraft operations even in the Austro-Hungarian period of the country’s history (that is until the end of World War I). Interest in aviation continued during the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic. The region was selected for the location of the local Air Force, for training facilities and also for aviation sports. Even during the period of the pre-Munich Czechoslovak Republic, air exercises, sightseeing flights and aviation events were held here. It was during this period that the construction of the airport in central Slovakia was decided upon. The most advantageous position was the area north of Zvolen, next to a farmstead called “Three Oaks”.

According to historical records, the first military aircraft landed on the “Three oaks” site on July 15, 1935. In May 1936, a flight school was established at the airport. Air crew moved onto the site on September 1, 1937. During the next year, 1938, the construction of pilot barracks began around the Hron River.

Political and military events during the period 1938-1939 significantly affected the development of aviation in the region and Airport Sliač became a strong player during World War II, contributing to Slovakia’s anti-fascist history. After liberation, on March 21, 1945, airport activities were restored and the official name of the airport changed from the original “Three Oaks” to “Airport SNP Sliač”.

After World War II, the region came under the influence of the Soviet Union. The Czechoslovak Army was concentrated mainly in the Czech part of the country, and the Slovak part was relegated to providing sites for education and training. In 1968, Airport SNP Sliač was taken over by the Soviet Army, apart from the civilian section of the airport, which remained under the administration of Czechoslovak Airlines. In 1989, after the “Velvet Revolution”, Soviet troops agreed to leave the country within one year (including Airport Sliač and its facilities). At that time, the airport fell largely into military usage but, on January 1, 1991, the airport became a part of the Slovak Airports Association. In the same year it received the status of a civil international airport.

This situation persisted until 2004 when, under Law Act no. 136/2004 of January 1, 2005, Airport Sliač transformed into a limited company whose 100% owner is the Slovak Republic. The airport currently operates under the name Airport Sliač Ltd and provides civil aviation services in addition to the traditional military operations.

In recent times, Airport Sliač has been closed for civil aircraft movements – that is since May 2009 until June 16, 2011 (with military operations coming on stream earlier on May 25, 2010). During this period, the runway has been extended by 60m from 2,340m to 2,400m and refurbished from asphalt and concrete to just concrete with emergency stops at both ends of the runway. There are modern runway lights in place (with an IFR or VFR control system); there is a modern navigation system installed (ICAO CAT 1); an animal control programme has been introduced; and runways and taxiways have been strengthened from 32 PCN (on request up to 40 PCN) and taxiways have been increased from 38 PCN (on request up to 40 PCN).

The apron too has refurbished with a new surface of asphalt and concrete applied which has a maximum carrying weight of 24PCN. There has been an apron extension undertaken to accommodate two more stands (there are now eight stands in total). A new apron lighting system is in place along with new air barriers; and there is now more convenient access between parking spaces.

The public parking area has also been extended to 150 spaces and the arrivals terminal building has been extended. The handling office and briefing room have been refurbished and new security facilities have been put in place which have been financed by structural funds from the EU.

Airport Sliač also boasts a Category 4 rescue and fire fighting service, as required by ICAO Annex 14. On request, the military fire and rescue service and local fire departments can provide Category 6 services. In terms of the fuel service, Airport Sliač has its own stock of jet fuel JET A-1 with a capacity of 100,000 litres. Distribution of fuel is provided by the LKW-tank which has a capacity 15,000 litres and has a pressure and gravity recharge system. Aviation gasoline 100 LL Avgas is not available at Airport Sliač.

Looking forward, a new departures terminal building is on the agenda. All services are already in place to accommodate the new building; however investment of around €3 million is required to undertake this project.

The airport is also in need of handling expertise as well as ground support equipment. A new GPU has been acquired but the airport is still in need of passenger stairs, baggage carts and dollies, baggage belts, air start units, potable water carts, de-icers and refuellers. Although investment is necessary, there is also a need to see an increase in traffic movements at the airport to justify the expenditure – which perhaps makes a business case for investing in second hand equipment.

Further, management at the airport is awaiting the commencement of work on the final NATO investment project, which will be finished by end of 2012. This is a contract worth more than €5 million for the construction of a facility for the storage of fuel and lubricants. The project will support NATO’s strategic capabilities. Currently, the project is out for tender.

Given all this development, Airport Sliač classified a Category 4D, according to ICAO ANNEX 14, which means that the airport can be used by almost any civil aviation aircraft. Precision approaches using navigation aids mean that the airport can be operated in low visibility weather conditions, without sight of the surface, and also at night.

Airport Sliač is characterised as an airport with mixed aviation services – it is a military airport combined with civil aviation services. In the past, military operations were controlled by the army and civil movements were controlled, in same control tower, by civil navigators. After the refurbishment, a decision was taken to leave all air traffic control to the army, which means clearer communication and a higher level of skills. Today, the southern part of the airport is operated as military services and northern part is for civilian services. The total cost of the modernisation project has been approximately €68 million, with approximately €32 million being reimbursed by the NATO Investment Program and the remainder paid by the Ministry of Defence of Slovakia.

Although Airport Sliač is never going to compete with local international airports, such as Vienna, Bratislava or Budapest, what it can offer is quick decision-making, fast check-in services, short distances between all areas of the airport and, importantly, slots. Essentially, the airport is seeking, firstly, to attract charter operators, secondly, low-cost carriers and also smaller aircraft, such as turboprops, performing scheduled city-pair services to European hubs such as Vienna, Bydgoszcz, Prague or Frankfurt.

This is where the airport’s strategic location comes into the frame. Heading north of the airport is Krakow (at a distance of 250-270km); east is Košice (220km); south is Bratislava (200km), Vienna (260-280km), and Budapest (200km); and west is Prague (520-550km) and Ostrava (200km). With so much investment already undertaken and a clear understanding of what still needs to be achieved, this airport – with is complex past and its heady ambitions – has plenty to shout about.