SOF Connect, a consortium of French investment firm Meridiam, Austria-based Strabag and operator Munich airport (MUC), has commenced the operation of Sofia airport in Bulgaria.

The consortium has paid an upfront fee of $337.55m (281m) to the Bulgarian state and pledged to invest over $749.58m (€624m) during the 35-year duration of the concession contract, which was signed last year.

The obligations also include the construction of a new Terminal 3 for the airport within the first ten years of the concession.

SOF Connect aims to transform Sofia Airport into a modern and competitive European airport and make it an enabler of ‘social, economic, environmental and inclusive growth to Sofia, its region and Bulgaria.’

The investment plan covers environmental, health and safety upgrades.

Top sustainability and resilience standards will be applied to transform the airport into ‘a success story’, claimed Meridiam.

The project is expected to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The financial close of the airport concession was achieved on 24 December 2020.

Among the pool of lenders include EBRD, Black Sea Trade & Development Bank, IFC and commercial lenders Unicredit, Société Générale, Kommunalkredit and DSK Bank.

EBRD provided a €50m loan and advisory services for the airport.

Sofia Airport is the sixth-largest international airport in Central Eastern Europe. It handled around seven million passengers in 2018, 7.1 million passengers in 2019 and 2.9 million passengers in 2020.

The airport saw a 53% year on year (YOY) decline in passenger numbers to 127,160 in March. Cargo handled at the airport increased YOY by 3.2% to 1,982t in March.