China's HNA Airport Group to operate Bulgaria's Plovdiv airport

SOFIA, REUTERS -- Bulgaria has awarded China's HNA Airport Group a 35-year concession to run the airport in Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city, the government said on Wednesday.

The Balkan country re-launched its tender for the state-owned airport last December after previous attempts failed to attract bidders.

"The concession is for 35 years and the concessionaire is obliged to make investments amounting to 79 million euros ($97.86 million) during that period," the government said in a statement.

The sum will be used for repair and maintenance of the existing airport and the construction of new facilities.

"Plovdiv airport will become the second European airport operated by the HNA Airport Group after Frankfurt-Hahn Airport in Germany, indicating that HNA has further deepened its cooperation with European countries and played an active role in the construction of the "Belt and Road" initiative," HNA Group said in a emailed statement.

China is pursuing a massive "Belt and Road" initiative, a modern-day "Silk Road" that aims to connect China to Europe, the Middle East and beyond via infrastructure projects across dozens of countries.

HNA Airport Group said it plans to gradually build Plovdiv airport into a cargo distribution and regional tourist hub for central and eastern Europe. The group also operates 16 airports in China with total passenger traffic of 47.9 million.

Bulgaria awarded a contract to run its airports in the Black Sea cities of Varna and Burgas to a consortium led by Germany's Fraport in 2006 and plans to re-launch a tender to run and operate the airport in the capital Sofia.