By Georgi Kalatozishvili, Tbilisi. Exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
The Russian airline company Aeroflot made a Tbilisi-Moscow flight on Monday night for the first time in quite a while. This became possible within the framework of the Russian-Georgian agreement on renewal of regular flights. Russian airlines had been flying to Georgia before that. But charter flights are one thing, while the restoration of regular air communication, broken off after the arrest of several Russian officers suspected of cooperating with Russian intelligence in 2006, is a completely different story.
The Special Envoy of the Georgian PM for Relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin reached an agreement to start regular flights at a meeting in Prague. Russian and Georgian airlines will no longer request aviation authorities for every flight, risking money and fearing surprises. The framework agreement gives way to daily flights without additional permissions. It must be noted that bureaucratic procedures affected prices and complicated the work of airlines.
Over 20 companies, including Aeroflot, VIM Airlines, Globus, S7, Transaero, Iral Airlines and UTair, have asked the department of aviation transportation of the Georgian Ministry for Economic Development for permission to grant licenses for regular flights.
Georgia has been pursuing an open sky policy since the presidency of Saakashvili: not a single country in Europe (maybe even in the world, according to some data) has opened its skies to foreign companies so much that it “forgot” about the interests of national airlines. Airzena tried to protest to no avail, it was ordered to compete in equal conditions. Obviously, a small company with three leased Airbus jets cannot compete with Aeroflot.
The Georgian authorities want to see more Russian tourists. Many airlines and flights mean cheap tickets, it seems appealing to tourists. That is another reason for the activity of Russian airlines.
Meanwhile, the Georgian opposition is worried that the return of Aeroflot will ruin the pro-Western course of Tbilisi. “Russians never do anything for no reason, they will definitely make tickets cheaper, so that Georgians would fly to Europe through Moscow, instead of Istanbul or Munich, in other words, Moscow will be the main “window on the world” for our citizens,” bemoans Mikhail Machavariani, a leader of Saakashvili’s United National Movement.
But if a “window” or a “door” are comfortable, why not let ordinary people use them instead?
It has only been declared so far that a flight between Tbilisi and Moscow will cost about $220, a low-cost Pegasus flight from Istanbul to Tbilisi costs a maximum of $100, or even cheaper if you book a ticket earlier.
In any case, the more airlines there are, the better passengers will be doing, considering that they are interested in having the most diverse choice possible.