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AIR TRANSPORT

EXPANSION

FlyGeorgia began operations in August 2012 with backing from TASC Aviation, the Dubai-based consultancy wing of Airbus. Though privately owned, the start-up underscores the Georgian Government’s commitment to transforming capital city Tbilisi into a major hub for the Caucasus. Martin Rivers reports.

Georgia on their minds

A ccording to FlyGeorgia chief executive Bijan

Mougouee, when Georgia started ‘open skies’

competition broke out and flag-carrier Georgian

Airways lost a big part of the market. “Turkish Airlines, Pegasus and so many others began to dominate the Georgian market. Georgian Airways, which had been privatised, was not really suited to cope with that competition,” said Mougouee. Rather than taking the airline back under its wing, the state opted to strengthen the private sector by encouraging newcomers such as FlyGeorgia. The start-up’s ownership structure is admittedly hazy, but Mougouee stressed that the Government has not taken a holding in the carrier. “The Government only supports us in terms of not creating barriers,” he affirmed. “That’s more than enough.” FlyGeorgia operates a fleet of two Airbus A319s and one A320, giving the European manufacturer a foothold in a market that has traditionally favoured Boeing aircraft. All of the Airbus jets are on operating leases of around five years and there are no immediate plans to place new orders.

Hub development

However, with FlyGeorgia spying long-term hub development – “we have a clear strategy of connecting south to north via Tbilisi” – Mougouee said that smaller regional aircraft might eventually be introduced. “We are looking into the possibility of 50-70 seaters,” he confirmed. “In order for us to do the hub concept, these would serve regional areas as a feeder for our Airbuses… But it’s too early to say what type of aircraft we will use. All options are on the table.” One possibility would be utilising Georgian Airways’ smaller Bombardier CRJ100s and CRJ200s under codeshare agreements. Mougouee explained that the two carriers already have codeshares in place and are firmly focused on “cooperation rather than direct competition”. FlyGeorgia’s early route development embodies this preference for complementary traffic. The airline withdrew from Amsterdam in order to avoid cannibalising demand for Georgian Airways’ pre-existing service. It also codeshares with its older brother on flights to Erbil in Iraq and Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, and will do the same when Georgian Airways launches flights to Baghdad. But, while avoiding head-to-head competition with other Georgian carriers, it has not been shy about tapping into under-served markets. FlyGeorgia now flies to Brussels,

“The Government only supports us in terms of not creating barriers. That’s more than enough.”

BIJAN MOUGOUEE

Dusseldorf and Kiev in Europe, as well as Dubai, Tehran and Cairo. Other Middle Eastern destinations are being considered, Mougouee said, singling out discussions with airports in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. But he emphasised that significant expansion is unlikely to come before the latter half of 2014. Two possible exceptions are London and Delhi, which would strengthen transit flows through Tbilisi. Flights to the British capital had been planned as early as this summer, but were still being considered as Arabian Aerospace went to press. “We know that it’s going to be a very profitable route,” Mougouee said. “We’ve already held talks with Luton and Stansted.” With a population of just 4.5 million, Georgia’s modest origin-and-destination traffic may strengthen the case for a merger between FlyGeorgia and Georgian Airways. Mougouee admitted that “eventually” that could happen, though he said it is “too premature” to discuss at this stage. “We have a lot of ideas. The extent to which they can be fulfilled depends on the development of foreign relations, the market, the economic situation and, of course, the political situation as well,” he concluded. “These will all affect our future roadmap. We are targeting a lot of things, but while you are developing you should not be too demanding.”

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