Sevastopol airport might open for commercial flights by 2020

Sevastopol will need a longer runway to serve as an alternate to Crimea's only current civil airport, Simferopol Ukraine used to operate passenger flights from the air base prior to Crimea's annexation by Russia (Melee / wikimedia.org)

The Russian government has made the decision to develop Sevastopol International Airport (also known as Belbek Air Base) as a commercial airfield, Kommersant daily reports.

The aerodrome is currently being used by the Russian Air Force. The military operator has been instructed to begin construction of a new, longer runway and a new passenger terminal. The airport should open for commercial passenger flights by 2020.

Discussions of Belbek’s future have continued for the past four years, ever since Russia declared it a dual-use military/civilian airfield in 2014. The final decision has been criticized by industry experts, who point out that tourist traffic to Crimea from Russia has started to shrink recently.

Last summer, the peninsula welcomed 5.4 million holidaymakers or 3.2% down on the 2016 level. The figure, the experts argue, is modest enough to be handled by the existing airport in Simferopol.

In addition, Russia is looking to build the Kerch Strait Bridge to Crimea by 2020, which is expected to further simplify passenger transportation to the peninsula.

Belbek was built in 1941 as a military airfield. Ukraine began using it as an international commercial airport in 2002 and built a passenger terminal there. After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, proposals were made to allow civilian use of the facility in order to accommodate the inflow of Russian tourists in summer. Sevastopol is also meant as the alternate for Simferopol airport, but needs a longer runway to receive commercial aircraft.

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