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Senior officials in the airport and tourism business in Georgia are pushing national carrier AirZena Georgian Airways to take a much more active role in enhancing direct air connectivity from the country to support growing demand. In discussions at the Routes Silk Road forum in the country’s capital city, Tbilisi, the national entity was labelled as a ‘weak’ operator that has failed to support Georgia’s wider development needs.
Initially established in September 1994 under the AirZena brand, the carrier provided charter flights to the United Arab Emirates, Italy, China, Egypt, India, Syria and regular scheduled flights to Austria. It was granted national carrier status in November 1999 and latterly the Georgian Airways title has been added.
In the past four weeks the carrier has introduced three new regional destinations to its route network from Tbilisi International Airport with flights to the Russian city of St Petersburg, the Armenian capital Yerevan and most recently the Ukrainian Black Sea destination of Odessa. These build upon a new link from the Georgian capital to the Russian city of Samara and seasonal services to Paris that were introduced earlier this year, but officials believe there is significant further growth opportunities.
The lack of capacity into the Paris market was one that was highlighted during the forum with Eric Herbane, managing director, COHOR Airport Coordination in France and recently appointed chairman of the WorldWide Airport Coordinators Group, revealing his surprise that the carrier is only serving Paris Charles De Gaulle on a twice weekly basis from Tbilisi and then only for part of the summer. “We are having to be as flexible with our regulations to ensure the airline is able to retain its traffic rights with regard minimum service levels,” he explained.
George Chogovadze, head of the Georgia National Tourism Administration, described this as a “very painful issue” and said: “It is a disappointment our national carrier only offers these two flights per week to Paris in the summer. According to tourism chief, lengthy discussions have taken place with the airline. “We are working on a daily basis on this,” he added.
There is clearly not a lack of demand between the Georgian and French markets and visitor arrivals data shows that even before seeing a stimulation of the market from a stronger non-stop offer, the Tbilisi – Paris city pair can certainly sustain a more regular air link.
“This appears to be not due to a lack of demand, but a lack of resource,” said one Georgian official during discussions on the sidelines of the forum. It appears that the national carrier does not have enough aircraft to fly its route network and is simply trying to put at least a limited schedule into place in a number of markets rather than offering capacity to meet demand, added the source.
These views were supported by Kate Aleksidze, chief executive officer, United Airports of Georgia (UAG), during the Routes Silk Road Strategy Summit, were she highlighted that AirZena Georgian Airways should not be afraid of competition in and out of the country and should offer a stronger product for passengers.
“AirZena Georgian Airways should not be afraid of international airlines entering the Georgian market due to our open skies philosophy. There are underserved markets that are crying out for more capacity. Wizz Air has shown this by generating a new passenger flow into Kutaisi which would not have flown to Tbilisi,” she said
“You can sell anything if you package it correctly and sell it correctly. All too often we are seeing one route served by two airlines using the same equipment, operating at the same time and offering relative air fares. I don’t know why this happens? Customers will select Airline A versus Airline B based on who offers the best service and based on perception and loyalty,” she added.