The government of Albania today signed the contract for the construction of the Vlora International Airport with the winning consortium. The contract clears way for construction of one of the major projects of the Albanian Civil Aviation, designed to become a new engine for tourism and economic development, making Albania a country where the number of tourists and visitors will increase exponentially.
The Minister of Infrastructure and Energy Belinda Balluku said in her remarks that the Vlora International Airport is one of the most important projects as part of the Albanian Civil Aviation development strategy. “The airport is designed to accommodate all sorts of flights from all over the world and the transoceanic flights in particular that have never taken place in Albania to date because of the inadequate runway at Rinas airport. It is designed to be a 4E class airport, one of highest classes in the Republic of Albania, fully meeting European and international civil aviation standards.
Behgjet Pacolli, speaking on behalf of the wining consortium, said this is a major and one of the most important investments he has ever made, “because it is being made in the historical city of Vlora.”
Prime Minister Edi Rama’s remarks:
“This is for me a way too more important moment than securing the COVID-19 vaccines, because it now allows me to really smile after such a long effort and endeavour. It was a long effort implying so many hurdles so that, as Belinda knows quite well, at some point I started telling her “this is impossible, this could be a curse. Someone might have cursed the project, because as soon as we solved a problem, another one emerges shortly after.”
It was a story worth writing, the story about us long journey to arrive here since the very beginning, when we launched negotiations with the consortium that has built new Istanbul airport. It was definitely a fantastic consortium with incredible capacities, with unquestionable financial power, but after all Behgjet (Pacolli) knows best that whoever doing business don’t care how big is the business volume, but they care about their share of the profits. And we concluded that the bid forwarded by the consortium was adequate for the Albanian state. Therefore, we were forced to unsuccessfully end the negotiations.
After that we prepared whole process to launch an open international tender. The truth is a number of companies operating and maintaining airports around the world, from Europe to Argentina and the Middle East, showed their interest in the project. We were convinced that the tender would involve many operators and this would allow us to make a satisfactory choice, but exactly when the tender was launched, we saw the virus outbreak. The deadly virus forced whole world to impose total lockdowns and it is pretty obvious that the worst-hit industry among all the industries bombarded by this invisible enemy was the airport industry. At that moment, the interested companies forwarded requests to suspend the tender and it was suspended just to reopen again last summer. It was during this time when the funding for the airlines and the airport industry were frozen, because the financial support the governments around the world provided them with was the kind of the support we have locally called as the wartime salaries to make sure that the sector survives. These companies were unable to embark on new investments and therefore we remained out of the process again.
However, it feels like things happen for a reason. I am not a Hegelian, but when it comes to this case I would say that Hegel was right when he said “coincidence is the sword for the necessity to hold sway.”
It feels like it was actually preordained for things to happen in a way that an Albanian, definitely a special one, saved us from this anxiety and help give Vlora the long-wished airport. This was actually my greatest pleasure in this process, actually an unpleasant one full of nervousness and disappointment, when Belinda called me to tell that Behgjet (Pacolli) had entered the tender. For the sake of truth, there has been another reason for me to love and admire Behgjet, because we are very close friends. But, instead of a phone call either with me or Belinda, or whomever else – as he is in his own home here – to tell us he was seeking to involve in this process, he decided to participate in the tender without telling absolutely anybody.
And he won the tender with a consortium that enjoys full capacities and, most importantly – and I would tell you something without his concession – as Belinda told me based on the Commission’s report, the consortium hasn’t presented a financial guarantee in all international tenders ever held in Albania, but it has always presented the funding en bloc. This is actually an absolute guarantee for the fact that the airport project is 100% funded and we are not talking about a contract that would take the company from a bank to another showing the signed document to apply for loans.
I am very glad about that and this is personal, but still I think it is worth sharing it with every Albanian, because Behgjet has been always dreaming and he has been obsessed with the idea about a project that would bear his hallmark and name in Albania. He has never asked to meet me or anyone else to ask for permits to construct residential buildings or villas or involve in other procedures to generate profits in Albania. He could have done it. He would certainly have built in Tirana and elsewhere across Albania, and he would have built much better than many others, but he has never asked for that.
The only thing we have discussed with Behgjet, though he keeps things for himself, has been his concern: “How come I was not given the opportunity to do something that would live long in Albania.” He once tried to transform the degraded Dajti hotel into a point of reference for tourism and he did so at a time when you couldn’t even think or imagine that Albania would so fast become a tourist destination at a time when Tirana lacked a proper spot to take a good picture. At the time when darkness prevailed here and – of course if he was to be welcomed by the then authorities – if he was to succeed in turning Dajti hotel into what he had designed it to become, he would have been the first swallow signalling the spring of the Albanian tourism.
But he was maltreated; he was crushed and despaired and therefore he lost interest and motivation to seek and do something. Things happened in this way and I believe it is the right place, with the right person, on the right time to do something fantastic for Albania and do something that would fulfil Behgjet’s dream so that his name is always remembered, not as the name of a businessmen, but as the name of a great distinguished patriot, who could always afford spending his life in yachts and airplanes along with sheikhs and wealthy people, travel throughout world and enjoy the sun rays when it snows here, but he made everything available to Kosovo by stepping in a space like that of the Albanian politics, which is neither a benevolent nor generous space towards the idealist ones, who join politics to leave their hallmark.
I know quite well it has been a long-cherished dream of Behgjet to do something in Vlora. He even once told me – I do not know if he still remembers it – “I would never change Kosovo if I were to be born again, but frankly saying I would have thought twice, either to be born in Kosovo or Vlora. Behgjet, it is now all in your hand.
I am convinced Vlora airport is a new engine for the Albanian economy.
We will definitely open four sky gates and we will definitely do so persistently, through hard work, patience, just like we have actually already done to date. This time has been personally for me a lesson to learn about another dimension of myself I didn’t know I possessed and this is patience, practicing patience.
Later, next week most probably, we will launch the tender for the Saranda airport. With the contract for construction of Vlora airport complete, the investment worth 99 million euros to upgrade and expand Tirana International Airport under the deal with the business, which has already turned Tirana airport into a purely Albanian airport in the hands of Albanian management following a really problematic period under the management of foreigners, and a new terminal will be built there, while the runway will be extended and expanded to meet the lacking requirements to allow transoceanic flights take place.
The good news is that the runaway of Vlora airport makes sure that the New York –Albania flights are not New York – Tirana or Tirana – New York flights alone, but also Vlora – New York, and New York – Vlora flights too. I have repeatedly stated I never give up what I say, although not everything can be done when you wish them to be done, because there are other objective factors that involve, but we will definitely make sure that the airplane “Fan Noli” operated by Air Albania company soon starts direct flights to the United States for Albanians in America to fly to Albania without being forced to spend long hours waiting for their flight at airports in other countries.
But this is not the only important aspect of the transoceanic flights, as Albania will become a country, where the number of tourists and visitors will increase exponentially. And we are not talking about four sky gates only, as these gates include two smaller gates, namely the airfield for light-sport aircrafts in K Korça and Gjirokaster, which are airports of a completely different level, but which still represent an opportunity for visitors, and four sea gates, namely the new tourist harbour in Saranda, whose construction is already underway, the Durres yachts and marine we presented most recently and whose construction is set to kick off soon, the tourist ports in Vlora and Shëngjin, whose construction I hope will begin within 2023.
Behgjet can’t help but laugh when hearing some ignorant insisting that Albania doesn’t need airports, Albania doesn’t need ports, but it needs bread. First and foremost, Albanians have never starved since the Skanderbeg era. Never! And this because of the way the Albanian community is formed. Quite the contrary, airports and ports – in addition to the tourist ports we plan to build two more commercial seaports in Durres and Vlora – they are actually bread factories for a country in the metaphoric sense and this is all about the big bread of economy.
Croatia has a population of 4 million people and it is one of the countless examples that can be set here too. Croatia has nine airports and it is the world’s seventh tourism superpower. A tiny country, which, although a blessed and beautiful country, it still lacks the full gift God has blessed Albania with, because it looks like God has made Albania on Sunday, on His day off. In such a small space, we have developed Croatia-like sea tourism, but Albania also has incredible untapped potential for development of mountainous tourism, extraordinary potential for agritourism and all these gates will make it possible for the Albanian economy to work with a lot more horsepower capacities in the coming years and make possible for people here be provided the opportunity not only to take up jobs, but quality jobs, because Vlora airport will require skilled and trained employees in all trades, including the aircraft maintenance hangar, which is another, completely new industry for Albania, which would require trained and highly-qualified labour force, young boys and girls, who will involve in this process.
That’s why, together with Behgjet, we have explored plans for a state budget-funded investment to open the Aviation Academy in Vlora in tandem with the airport’s construction. The Academy will produce Albanian experts and even Albanian pilots. We have built these plans together with partners and we will definitely build this aviation academy, which means that Albania is now at a moment – since we are in the Holy Month of Ramadan – when with every difficulty, comes relief. This is because, despite the pandemic, a whole and broad horizon has been open and all it takes is just that we keep persisting and working hard through the strength and power of our character.
I am really happy to see you here, Behgjet, because I see you now as an investor and builder in your own homeland and I am totally confident you will build really a beautiful airport, even more beautiful than the 3-D design we have prepared together with the architects.
I am really confident that when Vlora citizens will land in that airport, they will feel proud even their sense of self-pride is so strong that is turns out to be problematic sometimes, but Albanians everywhere would feel proud, the foreigners would feel same way as soon as they will land and become amazed at the sight of this country’s stunning beauties, a country blessed by God. Time is high today for us all to work together and make Albania proud.
Thank you very much!