How Our Schengen Accession will Make it Easier for Us to Pass Through Airport Border Controls

Sofia Airport CEO Jesus Caballero gave a demonstration of the new rules.

The Schengen area allows over 400 million people to travel freely between member states without going through border controls. This is now also true for Bulgaria. For now, however, only by air and sea. Why is Schengen not just the abolition of a few counters at the airport, what is the passenger’s journey and how will we fly through the Schengen area? These questions were answered and a demonstration in front of NOVA’s camera was made by the director of Sofia Airport, Jesus Caballero.

Hello, Mr. Caballero!

Hello! Thank you for the invitation and congratulations to all of Bulgaria for its accession to Schengen.

In your speech to the people you said ‘another wall is coming down’. What does chengen change for Bulgarians from now on?

I compare it to another wall that fell years ago, because now you have more freedom. Freedom of movement between all countries in the Schengen area.

How much time will we save?

You will certainly save time. According to our calculations, about 20-30 minutes on departure and even more on arrival.

Jesús Caballero showed the NOVA team the steps involved in getting through airport security to boarding the plane.

Where should we start?

We start at the electronic counters. The first step is to scan your boarding pass. We installed them last month. There are six in total. And so we went through the first step. Of course, if you have luggage – it’s checked in before that, but then passengers go straight to the security area. Once we’ve gone through security you see the biggest change. No passports are checked – the counters are empty and the doors are open.

What happens to those who travel to a non-Schengen country?

The most important thing is that they check the gate they are departing from to head to where the border police will be waiting for them.

Does this mean that the abolition of border checks is at the expense of security?

On the contrary. Every passenger will be screened as before for bringing in security-threatening items, and then there will be border checks for those passengers outside Schengen. There is no change in terms of security. What is more, the European Commission inspects our every step. Including testing the systems we have put in place.

How long did it take to prepare everything?
It took us three months to be able to prepare all the necessary infrastructure, which includes the separation of the passenger flows, training of our staff, and implementation of the system. We invested BGN 2.5 million to prepare both terminals for Schengen.

Why do we say that Schengen is so important if we look at the big picture?

Schengen is important for many reasons. Two, I think, are the most important. The first is the freedom of movement and the time we save. For example, from Sofia to Bucharest you need one hour, but the time you will spend at the airport could be twice as long if you have to go through passport controls. So – that in the first place. The second important thing, I think, is the economic benefits – for example, now passengers from the Middle East or further afield can travel directly through Bulgaria, whereas before that was not possible without going through another country. This is a great advantage. It can help Sofia to take advantage of its geographical location and increase the number of passengers passing through here. And a step further to become a hub for the regionIf you are travelling to a non-Schengen country, you have to pass through here. From there on, we leave Bulgaria and Schengen. Passengers need to check the gate they are departing from – for example, if they are going to London or Qatar. The gate numbers are 7 to 14. There are booths manned by police officers as well as automatic passport scanning machines.

How does this happen in practice? A flight has just arrived from Qatar. Passengers arriving are walking down a corridor so they don’t get caught up with those about to leave.
Are people still confused?

Yes, with the first flight out of Schengen on Sunday morning, people were still confused because they were looking for the border control and hesitating whether they could cross or not. Pretty soon, there will not be that confusion because we are going to remove them, but the rules require them to stay for at least another year until all the tests have been carried out.

The last time we talked, you told me that there was going to be a complete transformation of Terminal 2. How far have you got?

Yes, we are. And everything has to happen before the new Terminal 3 is built. In a few days we will also make the groundbreaking for the construction of a new 1,000-car parking lot. We will improve the traffic in front of the airport so there is no congestion. We are also going to renovate the check-in counters – we will double them. We are also going to introduce new systems so that passengers can check in their luggage themselves. We will also completely renovate the security area so that time can be saved there as well. We will also open a new duty-free shop in April. And by the end of the year, we will also build a new dining area. All this is being done to make the stay more comfortable for passengers.

These are things that may not be visible to passengers. But since last month, we have also started to introduce artificial intelligence into the operation of the X-ray machines so that they can learn to detect dangerous objects that may have traces of explosives on their own and automatically. This is how we make the work of security officers better and safer. We now also have a chatbot on our website.

And are there any new destinations that the airport will offer?

Yes, from the summer season for the first time it will be possible to fly directly to some of the Baltic countries – for example Riga. There will be flights to Helsinki.

And when can we hope for direct flights from Bulgaria to the USA? You know, many Bulgarians live and work there?

We have been working very actively for this since 2021. The good news is that there are a lot of passengers flying to the US – more than 50,000 people a year, which is more than enough for airlines to be interested and open a direct route. The problem now, however, is that there are not enough planes on the market. It is difficult to buy new machines, but we hope that from 2025-2026 at the latest this will happen, and we will also offer a lot of concessions to the companies themselves so that we can convince them

You mentioned the airlines. In recent weeks, Europe has been faced with many strikes by employees which have hampered flights. What is the situation in the sector?

There are many challenges, which started with the pandemic after the war with Ukraine. 4% of our traffic was to Ukraine and Russia. Another 4 to Israel and Jordan – and drawing the line we lost 8% of our traffic because of the situation. The cost of fuel also affects us, 30% percent of the cost goes there. Inflation is also an issue and staff costs, of course. And aviation is very sensitive to these factors, so we see strikes and price changes.

Sofia Airport staff have also warned of strikes if their salaries are not increased by 20%. Is there a solution to this?

We are negotiating with them. We have offered them a 13% increase. I think this is fair and relative to inflation. We want to provide good working conditions and pay for our employees. So we are negotiating with the unions and I hope we will have a solution soon without going to protests. Because that is our mission, to provide a good service to passengers and to look after our employees.

We hope so too. Thank you for this conversation!

Thank you!

More information HERE.