Prime Minister Edi Rama’s remarks at event announcing winning company to build new international airport in the south-western city of Vlore:
If I were to make an attempt to tell or write down how impatiently I have been waiting for this day to come, it is my impression that I would tell or write about something that few or maybe no one would ever believe it.
This has been one of the most beautiful and paramount challenge for me as a Prime Minister, namely making sure that an international airport is built in Vlore, yet it become one of the most dreadful and horrifying challenge in terms of the series of consecutive obstacles caused for reasons that have nothing to do with our wish, commitment and willingness.
It is the story of an adventure that started off years ago and, unfortunately, in such cases it is not easy at all, even impossible to describe people why such a challenge becomes almost a mission impossible due to circumstances outside the government’s influence and power.
It all started off with an effort to build an agreement with one of the world’s largest consortiums, which has actually built probably the world’s largest international airport, namely the new Istanbul airport, we went through a process that lasted for months on end, studies of all kinds were conducted, from the geological studies to feasibility and economic projection studies, and of course the financial aspect of the airport itself and the employment projections. And eventually, we failed to conclude as the consortium’s requests towards the Albanian government outmatched our opportunities to accept a deal which, according to us, didn’t properly embodied the public interest, i.e. an agreement that, in our opinion, given that airports, major mobility-related infrastructure works are about the mobility they always require state guarantees which, in terms of circulation, were unconvincing values for us to take the step towards a final deal.
The process resumed anew and, understandably, before the process was to take place, we redesigned the project, which has been already unveiled to the public few years ago and now displayed in the eyes of everyone, really a very ambitious and qualitative project with a specific vision designed not only to provide Vlore with a runway for the airplanes to land and take off, but also a new development spaces within the frame of a coastal Mediterranean and European city.
The process went on with the effort to embark on a path towards hosting an international tender. The international tender was organized, every effort was made to disseminate information and arise interest of the serious companies and, indeed, significant interest was shown, the process was reopened, but all of a sudden, the pandemic griped us and whole world and everything was stuck in limbo.
Companies naturally asked for more time, as the pandemic has hit everywhere, it has hit in every direction and every sector, but one of the worst hit sectors, perhaps the worst hit at a global level is the aviation industry, with the airlines stranded, airports closed causing extraordinary damages, forcing many countries to inject incredibly high amounts of money so that this gigantic industry doesn’t collapse and go bankrupt.
The process was suspended for a while, thinking it could resume again after the summer season, but again we faced another problem. European companies faced an objective hurdle since, being included in the relief and support packages and directly subsidized by the governments and the European Union, they were banned from using their own internal funds to support investments abroad.
So, we mark this moment today, when I am breathing relieved from this burden as, fortunately and unfortunately, I am also a MP representing Vlore. By fortunately I mean all the already known reasons, whereas by unfortunately I mean the known and unknown reasons, the proverbial impatience of Vlore citizens, which is definitely also an incredible incentive, turning into a torment at such moments, since you can’t help yourself but be targeted as a liar, deceitful man, as a man who forgets his promise, you become targeted as a man who doesn’t assume responsibility for what you pledge, you become targeted as manipulator, simple as creator of 3D videos and even though you know what the truth is, the words, arguments, clarifications are really little or no avail.
Today we finally have a winner and, for the sake of truth, I am very happy that the base of this consortium is a renowned leading company with a series of fantastic works and projects, an Albanian flag company owned by Behgjet Pacolli. I am very happy that Behgjet Pacolli will finally have the opportunity to demonstrate what he has wished to demonstrate for a long time and what he has been complaining anytime we met, saying how come he was not provided the opportunity to invest in Albania and leave his trace in Albania, do something for Albania that would become part of his work. And, on the other hand, I am extremely happy also for the fact that by having an Albanian company, by having a partner like Behgjet Pacolli, we will have the opportunity to hold him accountable in relation to the entire people and we are relieved of any barrier of the kind of the relation we would have been having with foreign companies, which of course could be equally good, could be equally interested, yet they could become totally cold, take a deaf ear or a blind eye when it comes to the demands you may forward in terms of quality and pace of work.
The consortium has also an experience in the area of aviation, a very successful experience indeed and all a merit of Behgjet, who has managed to bring together this huge group and I am totally confident that there will be no known or obvious obstacles. God forbid it if there are obstacles unknown to us or the kind of barriers that emerge in various forms, but we can openly state that nothing hampers us from ultimately signing the contract within a 30-day contract negotiating process as the law in the Republic of Albania stipulates, and which is, I believe, sufficient time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s regarding the obligations of both parties.
Few days ago, I met a friend from Germany, who was here for talks, and he reminded me of something, which is something I actually know, but he reminded me of it and I am telling you here. Construction of a highway, an airport, a bridge, a railway, a major public work, despite its size, takes 10 years in Germany. And understandably, when I talk about the years a project takes, I don’t mean the years it takes for an excavator to dig, but the years a project takes to complete from the moment a decision is made about it until the very last moment it fully completes. The major projects we have already launched, the major projects we will launch soon, are not projects that start to become a reality as soon as people see an excavator digging. I am saying this because, during this period in particular, there are many people – I understand that this is part of our life when the daily conversations and debates about the elections, who is going to win, who you would and wouldn’t vote for – who say “it is just now you are reminded that you have to work and it would have been best to work this way over the past eight years. Indeed, all the projects already underway, all the projects and events we are revealing to the public and I post them on the social networks to inform people about what is happening here and what is happening there and it is all about projects that have been launched for years now.
The Kukes airport project didn’t kick off when those who often don’t wish to see become self-aware by following my Facebook account. The Kukes airport began several years ago. The idea to build the new international airport in Kukes is an old one. This is a long-time promise made by every administration, but the work to construct Kukes airport kicked off just few years ago. With the landing tests, which are an international standard, already underway most recently and with the new international airport scheduled to eventually open its doors once workers and the machineries are removed from there in the next few weeks, this would mark the finale of a very long-time work.
The same goes for this airport. The same goes for Saranda airport. The Minister of Infrastructure will announce the international tender for construction of Saranda airport in the coming days, hopefully immediately after the contract on construction of Vlore airport is signed, since we didn’t want to launch another tender while the situation is like it is and while the process regarding Vlore airport was suspended. Our ambition is to deliver on the vision for four international airports and I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to reach out to those who say “we are struggling to provide daily bread, while you keep constructing airports.” The airports are really bread factories if we are to consider the bread as a metaphor. Airports are bread factories, because airports are not bus stations where people get on and off and which consume to take people from a place to a certain destination. The airports are actually factories of significant economic development. Airports generate employment, not only for those working at the airport, where a segment of activities take place, but also for the entire space where airports bring their impact.
The Munich airport, the Paris airport, the Istanbul airport and so on are not winged bus stations, but centres that guarantee incredible movements within the body of the economy of those countries, which also happen to be major and powerful countries within the body of the global mainstream economy. An airport comes with a set of new services that wouldn’t be operational if an airport doesn’t exist, because by increasing the influx of visitors and by boosting the needs as a result of this influxes that create airports and hotels, they bring new bank services, manufacture, airports bring new factories, airports bring a chain of activities. And it has been scientifically proven that what you invest in the airport is exponentially multiplied and one euro invested in airport is translated into 23 euros in revenues. So, if we are going to invest 100 million euros in this airport, multiply it with 23 and the result will be the impact of this airport on the economy of Vlore and Albania in the coming decade. Consider the investment in Kukes airport and multiply it with 23 and the result will be the impact on the economy of that district. It will also create thousands of employment opportunities and the problem we will certainly face is the lack of skilled labour force. An airport requires a number of occupations and skilled trades and a number of professional categories, and four international airports will take Albania to a whole new level in terms of economic and social development. They will take the country to a whole new level in terms of the future and in terms of delivering the vision of our Renaissance men and has been the continued vision of all of those who have governed the country, excluding of course the period of the communist dictatorship; the vision of an Albania that belongs to the family residing there where “the sun rises where it sets,” as Naim Frasheri used to say.
With this airport another extremely important channel of economic development will open, just like it is the case with the Tirana airport following the fantastic news for me and every Albanian, who are proud of being Albanian, since an Albanian company acquired the shares and took over the Rinas airport, which was managed by others, by Chinese most recently, will be followed by the news that major investments, which will kick off very soon, will be carried out in that airport to transform its runway to meet international standards for all sorts of flights, including the trans-oceanic flights, and for airplanes of all sizes with construction of the new terminal, which have been part of the expectations and part of the contract that was never honoured and implemented because of the alibis and the excuses made up by the previous airport operator.
With the new safety and security conditions in place and you know quite well the security problems we have faces in our airport, which has been subject of the continued disputes with the previous airport owners and, most importantly, the fantastic news about the Tirana airport’s acquisition by an Albanian company and decrease by 25% in prices. The most expensive airport in this part of this hemisphere, the most absurd airport costing Albania a fortune because of super expensive flights, has been a torture and a reason for many to curse us, and I regularly, no problem, but I am mentioning them here to say that the situation that has been is and will be and for a while, because it had the highest tariffs and they were asking us. What were supposed to do when it came to a owner, who was implementing a concession contract signed many years ago, where the state cannot intervene and issue orders that could be interpreted as blackmailing and one order could then cost dearly, equal to the cost of three new airports.
The new agreement has ensured normalization of the prices for passengers and once investments begin and a new phase starts, people will start feeling the investment effects in their ticket prices. The airport applying the most absurd jet fuel and gasoline prices, with almost double jet fuel prices compared to the Europe’s biggest and busiest airports, an airport that forced, even today, forced Albanians to travel to Montenegro, Ohrid, Belgrade of Kosovo to book cheaper flights. These all will be rearranged and the airport will now apply the average of airport prices applied throughout Europe, because the airports, when they are international ones, are part of an international competition, and it is not about social flights, but same prices should be applied when people fly from a European country to another. All these are related to two facts that the Minister already mentioned and I want to recall again. For the first time, we are provided the opportunity to take a significant leap toward developing our aviation industry, by having in Albania, namely at Vlore airport an area for maintenance hangars, where airplanes of other companies, not merely aircrafts flying here, but airplanes of other companies that will undergo maintenance and repair operations here, thanks to involvement in this initiative of another big company, which has been for long requiring to establish a maintenance area and failed to secure such an area in Tirana, since the airport’s Chinese owner didn’t agree.
On the other hand, the second element, the cargo element, so a cargo airport. We have yet to build a cargo area in terms of scheduled cargo flights, and this gives Vlora airport a new dimension with regional impact in cargo aspect. So, the worst here is also over and the best days lie ahead of us. I know that Vlora citizens will ask on Monday why construction of the airport is not underway. I know this, but I will succeed in convincing them as I know quite well we no longer face unexpected barriers. God forbid it if the universe has another trick for us in store, because I hope it has exhausted its tricks with the earthquake and the pandemic. Last but not least, I would join the Minister in appreciating the Commission members, as I know it is a very complex work, there are operations that include international companies and it is very important that you live up by your duty as “great things” have been done in terms of evaluations in the past in the face of blindness in front of all files of bids and offers and everything has then resulted into a big failure, incurring additional costs in the process. You are dealing with a very complex yet laudable work.
Thank you very much and I hope we will now be able to head to Vlore area as soon as possible and be present at the site once the design project is ready, because I know it will take some more time before the excavators show up there, but it would be great if the first machineries are stationed there and preparations begin for such a huge volume of work that will make us all feel proud for being part of this process, despite the positions each of us has held in this process. Thank you very much!