TIRANA, Albania () – The Albanian government on Friday selected a Swiss corporation to build a new 104m-euro ($ 125m) international airport near the southwestern city of Vlora in a bid to promote tourism and economic development.
The Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy said Lugano-based Mabco Constructions Corporation will pay for the construction of the airport and receive a 35-year concession to operate it. The first part of construction, which should begin later this year, will take 36 months.
Infrastructure Minister Belinda Balluku acknowledged that the aviation industry “had the most negative impact due to the pandemic”. But she added that the government believes that “during the recovery we have the opportunity to build a network of airports.”
The consortium’s main donor is Behgjet Pacolli, an ethnic Albanian entrepreneur from neighboring Kosovo.
Conservation groups have asked the government to reconsider the project, saying it would seriously damage the country’s western wetlands in the Vjose-Narta protected area.
Vlora International Airport will be located 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of the capital Tirana, near the Narta Lagoon and the Vjosa River. It will have a 3.2-kilometer (2-mile) runway and is planned to accommodate up to two million passengers a year.
It will also offer aircraft maintenance services, which are currently not available in the tiny Balkan country.
Albania has only one international airport, Tirana’s Mother Teresa International Airport, near the citadel. Another smaller airport in northeast Kukes is expected to become operational in a few weeks. After Vlora, Tirana plans to build another airport in the southernmost Saranda.
“With four airports, Albania will (move) to another level of social and economic development,” Prime Minister Edi Rama said.
Albania expects full membership talks with the European Union, likely this year.
Tourism in Albania, one of Europe’s poorest countries, has gained in importance in recent years and now accounts for 8.5% of GDP. The number of foreign tourists doubled between 2013 and 2019, to 6.4 million.
But the 2019 earthquake and the impact of the virus pandemic have more than halved arrivals.