The European Investment Bank (EIB) and special purpose vehicle SOF Connect AD have reached a $47.1m (€40m) loan agreement to upgrade Sofia International Airport (SOF) in Bulgaria.

SOF Connect AD is majority-owned by French asset manager Meridiam.

The loan is backed by the European Commission’s Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), an EU funding instrument to support growth, jobs and competitiveness with targeted infrastructure investment at the European level.

It will be used to modernise SOF’s infrastructure and to upgrade regulatory, safety and security components.

Additionally, the loan will be used to enhance energy efficiency components and offer advanced environmental protection.

Part of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), Sofia International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the Balkans and also one of the largest in Central and Eastern Europe.

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In 2019, the Republic of Bulgaria awarded a 35-year concession to Meridiam and its partner Munich Airport to develop and manage operations of the airport.

Meridiam founder and CEO Thierry Déau said: “We look forward to partnering with EIB for this important project, which constitutes a major upgrade in the sustainability and resilience of the infrastructure and will contribute to post covid economic recovery in Bulgaria.”

EIB’s loan is said to be in accordance with the EIB Climate Bank Roadmap, which was approved in November last year.

The roadmap does not support EIB backing for airport capacity expansion.

Rather, it supports improving existing airport capacity as well as safety, security, modernisation and decarbonisation investments.

EIB vice-president Lilyana Pavlova said: “Sofia International Airport is the main international gateway to Bulgaria, handling 7.1 million passengers in 2019.

“While travel numbers have been down during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is of long-term strategic importance to support the airport now in the imminent works necessary to bring regulatory, security and energy efficiency components up to the latest standards.

“At the EIB, we are delighted to support this project that has been backed by the Connecting Europe Facility and is part of the Trans-European Transport Network, which aims to close transport gaps and strengthen social, economic and territorial cohesion in the EU.”