Sukhumi Airport: Dreams and Doubts

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Sukhumi Airport

Article originally published on the Echo of the Caucasus website. Text and terminology of the article reproduced unchanged. All rights belong to Echo of the Caucasus. Publication date: June 12, 2024.

Two pieces of news recently appeared in the media that sparked active discussion in Abkhazian society, particularly on social media, concerning the future development of transport and tourism in the republic.

After the opening of Sukhumi Airport, planes therefrom will fly to seven Russian cities,” Abkhaz President Aslan Bzhania said in an interview with RIA Novosti at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2024. According to him, it is expected that in the first year after opening tourist flow to the republic will increase by at least 50%. Bzhania noted that approximately 11% of the air traffic to Sochi consists of people traveling to Abkhazia. Based on last year’s figures, Sochi airport served 12 million people, which led the president to conclude that Abkhazia has 1 million passengers …

It is planned that the renovated airport will operate regular flights to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Krasnodar, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, and Kazan. Currently, reconstruction of the republic’s airport is nearing completion, including an upgrade of the runway and the passenger terminal. Negotiations are underway with two Russian airlines that may become the main operators of flights from Abkhazia to Russia. It is expected that the route network will expand as demand for air transportation in the region grows.

Internet comments on the president’s statements and circulated articles exceeded four hundred, but only a few were strictly positive. The vast majority expressed confusion on two points:

“If a million air passengers travel to Abkhazia through Sochi Airport, it does not necessarily mean they will all switch routes to Sukhumi. Most prefer to vacation in western Abkhazia, which is closer to Adler and more familiar.”

Questions also arose regarding air traffic between the Abkhazian capital and Sochi:

“What about the Sukhumi – Sochi route? It’s a couple of hundred kilometers by air, but with less time in the air than during landing and takeoff… Not to mention the ticket price.”

A speculation was offered in response to this question:

“First, these are still only theoretical plans. Second, there will probably be transit flights to some distant Russian city. And to Sukhumi, there will be flights by small aircraft.”

Questions also emerged about the inclusion of Krasnodar Airport in the list, which closed after the start of the war in Ukraine. Currently it is undergoing reconstruction and, according to the media, will be six times larger by 2025. However, predicting whether the airport will be operational in the coming years is difficult, as everything will depend on the course of the war in Ukraine.

Moreover, there is not a single airport from the North Caucasus region on the list. For example, a flight from Mineralnye Vody would certainly attract many tourists to Abkhazia, not to mention the Adyghe-Abkhaz people living in Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, and the Stavropol Krai.

In late October 2023, a Russian company “Infrastructure Development” won the bid for reconstruction of Sukhumi Airport, with which a public-private partnership agreement was signed. The Russian investor will reconstruct the 3100-meter long and 45-meter wide runway, taxiway, part of the apron, and install necessary equipment for receiving modern Russian and foreign aircraft, according to the announcement.

In addition to updating airport infrastructure, plans include the construction of a new passenger terminal and the renovation of the historical building. The throughput capacity of the new airport complex will be 1300 passengers per hour. The airport is expected to open no later than March 31, 2025. Initially, the project was estimated to require 8 billion rubles in investment, but the current estimate has risen to 12 billion.

The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Energy and Transport of Abkhazia have already announced the recruitment of staff for the new international airport in Sukhumi, named after Vladislav Ardzinba.

The International Civil Aviation Organization does not recognize Sukhumi Airport as international. At Georgia’s request, ICAO annulled the airport’s code and removed information about it from its documents since 2006. Presumably, the same airlines that fly to Tbilisi today will not operate flights to Sukhumi, as Georgian and Western sanctions could be imposed on them.

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