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Airzena suspends flights to Russia, holds rally

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, December 11
Airzena has suspended its flights to Russia and is holding a rally to protest unequal conditions between Georgian Airways and Russian air companies, which resumed their flights to Georgia in October of 2014.

Airzena says that parity principle rule is not ensured between Georgian and Russian companies and this is causing serious financial damage to Georgian Airways.

In its eight-point demand list, Airzena claims that the flow of an unlimited number of Russian air companies to Georgia will bankrupt the single Georgian air company. Thus, they appealed to the government to abolish its decree that provides Russian companies with the opportunity.

Airzena states that the Russian companies should be let in Georgia through the conditions they had in 2006.

The company also demands separation of the National Aviation Agency from the Ministry of Economy, transforming it into an independent body and hiring professional staff. Airzena also demands the removal of agency head Guran Jalaghonia who, according to them, lacks professionalism. Another demand concerns the restoration of a flagman status of Georgian aviation to Airzena, which according to them was illegally removed under the previous government. In the case if their demands are not met, the company threats with permanent rallies and even launching hunger strike.

General Director of Airzena Iase Zautashvili states that the Russian company Aeroflot launched its flights with a “damping price.”

“It is one of the largest and richest companies, getting money from the Russian budget. Thus it can offer low prices,” Zautashvili said. Aeroflot’s economy-class tickets starts at 180 GEL, while the same seat costs 560-580 GEL through Airzena. “Since Aeroflot started its flights to Moscow, the number of our consumers decreased by 70%,” Zautashvili says.

“We are not afraid of concurrence,” Airzena Pilot Davit Mikuchadze said, adding that there is no room from an unlimited number of Russian companies, as there is no demand on the market. “The government should make decisions in favor of its companies,” he says.

Head of the National Aviation Agency Jalaghania stated that he had no information concerning the rally or the suspension of flights. He states that Airzena has not addressed him regarding the demands. He said that he was going to hold meetings with Russia concerning several issues related to flights.

Russia's flagship airline began daily direct flights from Moscow to Tbilisi in October 2014. Direct flights between Russia and Georgia stopped in 2008 due to strained relations over the conflict in the breakaway region of South Ossetia. In 2010, Russia's Sibir (S7) and Georgian Airways started occasional charter flights between Moscow and Yekaterinburg and Georgian cities Tbilisi, Batumi and Kutaisi.

In September 2014, Russia's federal aviation agency Rosaviatsia announced that direct flights to Georgia would begin again. Six other airlines were granted permission to fly the routes, including VIM-Avia, Globus, Sibir, Transaero, Ural Airlines and UTair.

Currently there are two Russian air companies permitted to have flights between Georgia and Russia: Aeroflot and Sibir. They are undertaking 14 trips in a week.