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Slovakia: New Airline Faces Tough Take-Off

Bratislava, 22 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Slovakia's new airline, Slovenske Aerolinie, appears to be facing stiff competition from domestic and foreign carriers as it prepares for flights from Bratislava to Moscow and other points east.

The airline, which is to be Slovakia's national carrier, is to begin operation sometime later this year.

In choosing Moscow as its initial destination, it takes on a run already served almost daily from Bratislava's Stefanik airport by Aeroflot and the Czech CSA airline.

Rather ominously, Slovak Airport Authority director Igor Dula told an RFE/RL correspondent that Stefanik has plenty of space for the new airline. The problem he says, is lack of passengers. The greatly-underutilized airport can handle 1.8 million people a year, but its present through-put is only some quarter of a million.

There's a rising trend to those figures however, and Dula welcomes the arrival of SA on the scene. He hopes the new venture will stimulate a greater passenger flow and lead to lower air fares.

SA plans to concentrate on the Russian market, including the tourist trade to Slovakia for skiing. Apart from Moscow, a number of other destinations are under consideration, as is China.

SA is the brainchild of hotel owner and travel agency chief Viliam Veteska of Puchov. Veteska, who is fluent in Russian, has been trying since 1995 to get the airline off the ground, and he is doing it now with help stemming in part from Russia.

Slovak Communications and Transport ministry spokesman Emil Picha told an RFE/RL correspondent that the Russian aircraft company Yakovlev Air Construction Agency will have a 3.2 percent stake in the new airline. Picha said the airline will begin flying with four Russian-made airliners. The planes, worth $202 million, are to be supplied by Russia to Slovakia to pay off debts from the days of the old Soviet COMECON trade group. The Slovak state will then rent the planes to AS.

In other business news, Slovakia's tire manufacturer Matador of Puchov reported net profits of 250 million Slovak crowns ($8.3 million) last year and is hoping to increase profitability further this year.

Matador economic director Libor Misak told RFE/RL that higher production boosted by growing exports had increased profit levels.

The company had a turnover of 11,000 million crowns ($370 million) last year, which is 5 percent higher than the previous year (1995). This year the company is hoping to increase turnover by about a further 10 percent.

He said officials are predicting a 350 million crown ($11.6 million) net profit this present year.

Matador exports over 80 percent of all its production, mostly to Russia and central Europe, Misak said.