Wizz Air, one of Europe’s fastest growing budget airlines, has become the leading carrier in Georgia, according to figures released by the country’s civil aviation authority which show that, in the first nine months of 2019, the Hungarian low-cost carrier (LCC) served 592,900 people, 15 per cent of all passenger traffic in the country.
The LLC is followed by Turkish Airlines, which was responsible for 11 per cent of all Georgian passenger traffic, with 443,900 people served. The Tbilisi-based Georgian Airways (formerly Airzena), the privately owned flag carrier of the Caucasus country, ranks third with 435,200 passengers, having carried, 11 per cent of all traffic.
A year ago, in the first nine months of 2018, Turkish Airlines was the leading airline in the Georgian air travel market and the main competitor of the local Georgian Airways by offering passengers a global network of connecting flights through its Istanbul hub. Wizz Air was then only the third-placed carrier.
But by the year-end of 2018 the LCC, for the first time, became the leading carrier in Georgia, having served 587,600 people in the year, 12 per cent of all passenger traffic. The ambitious Hungarian airline only started its operations from Kutaisi International Airport (KUT) in 2012, before turning it into a base airport in 2016. Currently the airline is responsible for more than 90 per cent of passengers passing through the airport.
In July of this year the budget carrier announced a further expansion at its Georgian headquarters by systematically adding 12 new routes from its Kutaisi base, starting in September of this year up to July 2020. To support this network expansion the airline has had to double its Kutaisi-based fleet.
Along with the new destinations, the Hungarian LCC now offers 41 routes in 19 countries from Kutaisi, which is the third most populous city in the Caucasus republic and the second in political and economic importance after the capital city of Tbilisi. The two new routes bring an additional 94,000 seats of capacity to the airline’s Georgian network, which will total more than 1.5 million seats available for sale in 2020.
Competition in the Georgian air travel market is set to increase in the near future, with Ryanair, Wizz Air’s rival and Europe’s largest LCC, announcing its first flights to Georgia with a new route from Milan’s Bergamo airport to Tbilisi and two from Bologna and Marseille to Kutaisi, which commence in November. The Irish discounter will also connect Georgia’s capital to Cologne in April as part of Ryanair’s Summer 2020 schedule and expects to deliver 170,000 customers annually to/from these Georgian airports.
In 2010, the government of Georgia signed an open-skies agreement with the European Union, thereby allowing EU carriers to freely launch flights into the Caucasus republic. From January to September the passenger traffic in Georgia reached five million people, 88 per cent of them carried by foreign airlines, whereas local carriers transported only 488,000 people, 12 per cent of all traffic.
Wizz Air’s expansion has allowed Kutaisi airport to significantly increase the number of passengers served in the first nine months of 2019, to 629,600, up 39.7 per cent year-on-year. However – affected by the suspension of all direct flights between Georgia and Russia earlier this year – the country’s airports recorded 10 per cent less traffic growth than expected. Overall passenger traffic reached 4.1 million passengers, up by only 5.4 per cent year-on-year.
Tbilisi Airport handled 2.9 million passengers, up just 0.68 per cent year-on-year. Batumi Airport served 524,000 people, two per cent more than last year.
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