The Government of Bulgaria has agreed to defer Sofia Airport’s (SOF) annual concession fee payments for ten years.

The decision comes after Sof Connect, an international consortium that operates the airport, requested a fee deferral due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that hammered air travel.

Reuters reported Transport Minister Rosen Zheliazkov as saying in a statement that the government will receive an initial payment of $401.3m (BGL660m) later this month.

Subsequently, the consortium will start paying deferred fees from the 25th year.

Sof Connect, which is composed of France-based investor Meridiam and Munich Airport (MUC), was selected as the concessionaire for Sofia Airport in July 2019.

The decision was approved by the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria in June last year following a long legal battle.

Earlier, the selected consortium agreed to pay 32% of revenues, which would not be less than €24.5m as annual concession fees. The Meridiam-led consortium is set to operate Sofia Airport for 35 years.

However, the decision to defer payments was criticised by the opposition.

In a government meeting, Zheliazkov was quoted by the news agency as saying: “There is no reason to think that the amendments favour someone or deprive the state.

“We are delaying the payments, not giving them up.”

Sofia Airport is Bulgaria’s main international airport. Last year, it handled 2.9 million people, a sharp drop from 7.1 million recorded in 2019.