Georgian airports’ traffic growth slumps from 24 to two per cent

Russia’s ban on direct air service to Georgia has affected the country’s airports

Kutaisi Airport Kutaisi Airport enjoyed double-digit growth of traffic numbers amids market slump (Kutaisi Airport)

Georgia’s airports handled 4.9 million passengers from January through November of this year, exceeding the result for the same period of 2018 by a mere four per cent, according to the country’s Civil Aviation Agency. Moreover, the regulator expects the growth rate to slide even further to two or three per cent by the end of this year.

12 months ago, for the entire 2018, Georgian airports recorded 5.033 million passengers, an impressive 23.6 per cent year-on-year improvement but, in the interim, political tensions between Russia and Georgia resulted in a July 8 ban on direct air connections between the two countries.

According to Georgia’s aviation agency, traffic growth in 2019 was nevertheless recorded at all of the country’s international and domestic airports, with the exception of the largest airport in the Tbilisi capital. In the first 11 months of the year, passenger traffic through Tbilisi dropped by two per cent to 3.5 million passengers, a direct consequence of the ban.

Before the suspension, a total of eight Russian airlines operated flights to Georgia, including Aeroflot and its low-cost subsidiary Pobeda, as well as S7 Airlines, Ural Airlines, Smartavia, Red Wings, Utair and Severstal. On the Georgian side, passenger service links with Russia were previously fulfilled by Georgian Airways and MyWay Airlines.

According to the latest figures, a modest rise in passenger numbers of three per cent to 597,000, was enjoyed at Batumi International airport and the biggest contributor to overall traffic growth in the period was Kutaisi International, which improved its operational results by a spectacular 41 per cent to 791,400 passengers, due mainly to the expansion of Wizz Air’s service offering from that city. The Hungarian low-cost carrier added two aircraft to its fleet based at Kutaisi, bringing it to five units, and also launched 12 new routes from its Georgian base. In addition, the budget airline, which is already the biggest operator in the Caucasus country, also announced plans to further expand its operations from Georgia next year.

Along with its airports, the entire Georgia tourism industry suffered a major setback when Russia suspended all direct air links with Georgia following social unrest in Tbilisi. That decision shut down one of the liveliest leisure travel markets in the midst of the peak vacation season. The Caucasus country had been expecting to welcome 1.7 million Russian tourists this year, contributing more than US$890 million to the local economy. Last year more than 1.4 million Russians visited Georgia, a figure that represents some 20 per cent of the total international tourism traffic into the country.

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