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Abkhazia attempting to open airport for international flights

By Ana Datiashvili
Wednesday, April 16
“Sokhumi Airport is ready to receive any kind of plane from any country,” announced Abkhaz TV on April 14.

Airport management say they have repaired the de facto separatist capital’s airport and are looking to accept international flights to breakaway Abkhazia.

“During the war, Sokhumi airport was destroyed partially, but you can see now that runways and other important points are in order,” said the deputy director of Sokhumi Airport, Anatoly Khilchevski, to Abkhaz TV on April 14. “We are working to improve the infrastructure and soon Sokhumi Airport will meet high standards.”

After the Abkhazian war of secession in 1992–1993, Sokhumi’s airport closed to international flights. The potholed runways were a hazard to planes, and the Georgian government appealed to prohibit international flights to the breakaway region.

The Gali district coordinator for the Tbilisi-backed Abkhazian government-in-exile, Tornike Kilanava, told the Messenger that aside from political awkwardness, potential air carriers still face inadequate infrastructure at the airport.

“Sokhumi Airport can’t satisfy [international] standards right now,” he said.

A British aviation expert said UK legislation forbids airlines from flying to unlicensed airports. Licensing requires extensive safety checks on the gruond, the aviation expert said.

The chair of parliament’s temporary commission on territorial integrity, Shota Malashkhia, said Russia, by supporting the reconstruction of the airport, is using the conflict zones as a weapon against Georgia.

“This time Russia is trying to show up Georgia with the help of Sokhumi Airport, because it didn’t manage to weaken Georgia’s central government [through other means],” he told reporters on April 14.

Malashkhia said Tbilisi would try to block international flights to Sokhumi through legal appeals.

Abkhazian separatist leaders have previously spoken of revitalizing Sokhumi Airport.

Last July, de facto Abkhaz foreign minister Sergey Shamba told the Russian news agency Regnum that Sokhumi will work on the region’s airports in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in the nearby Russian resort of Sochi.

Shamba said Olympic organizers will need to look for alternative airports to accommodate the rush of visitors, and Abkhazia’s Sokhumi and Gudauta airports could be options.