Baku Airport continues to expand its route network to Europe and CIS countries - Teymur Hasanov (Exclusive interview)

Economy Materials 11 December 2023 16:05 (UTC +04:00)
Baku Airport continues to expand its route network to Europe and CIS countries - Teymur Hasanov (Exclusive interview)
Kamran Gasimov
Kamran Gasimov
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BAKU, Azerbaijan, December 11. By the end of the year, the passenger traffic at Heydar Aliyev International Airport will reach a record high of 5.7 million people, Director of Heydar Aliyev International Airport Teymur Hasanov told Trend in an exclusive interview.

He talked about attracting new air carriers, including low-cost airlines, expansion of the activities of regional airports, as well as the further prospects of the development of aviation industry.

- Taking into account the record high of passenger traffic at Heydar Aliyev International Airport in 2019 and the events happening in the world, how can you assess the airport’s performance this year? Will the airport be able to cope with the tight flight schedule and set a new record this peak season?

Before the pandemic, in 2019 passenger traffic at the airport reached its record high of 4.7 million people. However, if we look at the total passenger turnover of Baku Airport in 2023 for 11 months of this year, this figure exceeded 5.3 million. In fact, compared to 2019, new records were set each month in 2023. During the first 11 months, the total number of passengers on domestic and international flights exceeded the indicators of the same period in 2019 by 21.2%.

If we consider only international flights, the growth of 22.1% was observed. In the first 11months of 2023, the number of passengers on international flights amounted to 87.4%. Among foreign airlines carrying the highest number are such carriers as “Turkish Airlines”, “Anadolu Jet”, “Utair”, “Aeroflot” and “Fly Dubai”. This figure shows that Heydar Aliyev International Airport plays a leading role in international flights.

On the other hand, if we look at this issue on a global scale, this year Azerbaijan was elected as an official destination partner of the World Travel and Tourism Council, and based on expert estimate of this council, despite macroeconomic and geopolitical tensions, this year the global tourism sector is recovering faster than it was expected. Total global tourist traffic is expected to increase by 5 % in 2023 compared to 2019.

The passenger traffic at Heydar Aliyev International Airport is expected to exceed the figures of 2019 by 20 percent to reach more than 5.7 million by the end of the year. In general, Baku Airport is currently able to serve 9 million passengers. I can confidently say that our airport successfully copes with a tight flight schedule and aims at achieving a new record.

- How have the recent changes in geopolitical conditions, especially in the South Caucasus, affected the number of flights and passenger traffic at Baku Airport?

Taking into account the current geopolitical conditions, we would like to note with confidence that this circumstance had a minimal impact on the operation of the Heydar Aliyev International Airport, with the exceptions of flights to/from Ukraine.

The passenger traffic continues to grow, new previously not-available destinations such as Samarkand, Urgench, Dushanbe, Lahore, Islamabad, Kishinev, Baghdad and others have been opened. Furthermore, flights to European cities, including Barcelona, Paris, Geneva, Rome, Milan, Prague, Riga, Vienna and other major cities have been resumed.

- How many airlines are currently operating flights to Baku Airport and what measures are being taken to attract new low-cost airlines?

Currently, 36 airlines operate flights from Heydar Aliyev International Airport to 36 nearby cities during the autumn-winter season. We are actively attracting new carriers, especially low-cost airlines, and 17 out of 36 our existing partners represent this segment.

For example, in spring, the Chinese airline China Southern (Urumqi-Baku-Urumqi) resumed partnership with us. In May, we started cooperation with the new low-cost airline WizzAir Malta, and the airline operates flights from Rome to Baku and back three times a week. WizzAir also increased the number of flights between Baku and Budapest to 3 flights a week, while Wizz Air Abu Dhabi increased the number of flights on route Baku – Abu Dhabi to 14 times a week, and Qatar Airways increased the number of flights on route Baku-Doha-Baku to 11 times.

In addition, in September, two new air carriers joined the ranks of our partners. Georgian low-cost airline Georgian Wings has started to operate flights from Tbilisi to Baku and has already increased the frequency of flights to 5 times a week. Greek carrier Aegean Airlines operates flights on Route Baku-Athens-Baku twice a week in the summer season and once in the winter season. Since November, Iraqi Airways has started to operate flights from Baghdad to Baku Airport once a week.

Additionally, the number of low-cost airlines from Kazakhstan is also increasing. Except the national air carrier Air Astana operating flights from Almaty, the low-cost airline FlyArystan operates flights from Astana and Aktau to Baku.

I would like to note that there is no longer a route served by only one airline in the popular destinations to which flights from Baku are already available, thus offering passengers more opportunities.

- What terms of co-operation are offered to major air carriers and regional airports? Are there any specific initiatives to attract new foreign airlines to the regional airports of Azerbaijan?

- Our co-operation is based on the principles of partnership and mutually beneficial relations. We offer not only ground services of high quality and comfort, but also flexibility in matters of co-operation, paying special attention to meeting the needs and expectations of our partners.

We endeavor to expand the route network to Azerbaijan and beyond. I would like to note that we develop attractive terms for regional airports and make advantageous offers to operators. In addition, we are actively working on making our regional airports the base airports for foreign airlines, and for this purpose we conduct negotiations with airlines such as Wizz Air, Pegasus and Flynas.

- How can you explain high fares for passenger and aircraft services at Heydar Aliyev International Airport?

- Heydar Aliyev International Airport is a major aviation hub which serves for more than 15 thousand passengers every day. Thus, it is a small place that requires constant service that meets world standards. The cost of ground service at airports is determined by various factors such as airport size, the state of the infrastructure, the scope of services and other characteristics. When cooperating with foreign air carriers, all these factors are taken into account to ensure the provision of high-quality service.

And when we talk about the “high fares” of our airport, it is important to take into account its size and compare it not only with regional, but also with other metropolitan airports in the world. If we look at it from the point of view of high level of service and compare it, for example, with Milan, Moscow or other airports, then it becomes clear that Baku Airport offers competitive fares.

- Why should foreign airlines choose our airport?

There are many valid reasons for this. First of all, its convenient geographical location - Baku airport is located at the intersection of many air routes and is considered a convenient hub for flights between Europe, Middle East and Asia, which ensures convenient and efficient transfers for passengers.

Beside it, Heydar Aliyev International Airport meets high security standards. Strict security measures are applied to passengers at all stages of their journey. It is also worth noting that Baku Airport is one of the most modern and technologically advanced airports in the region and is distinguished by a high level of service. By the way, Heydar Aliyev International Airport is among the limited number of world airports equipped with a runway ready to receive the wide-bodied aircraft.

Our state is also constantly investing in the development of the aviation industry and the modernization of the airport. This includes the expansion of aviation operations, terminals, improved infrastructure, and introduction of new technologies that enhance the quality of service.

In short, the choice of Heydar Aliyev International Airport for foreign airlines is favorable due to its geographical location, modern infrastructure, quality of service, developed flight network, safety, economic capacity and comfort for passengers.

- Is there a limit to the number of airlines that can be physically accommodated at Baku airport?

To better understand the situation, let's start with the regional airports of the country, where the basing of foreign airlines is a real prospect. As a rule, the airline can accommodate an average of 5 aircraft at regional airports of the country.

In case of Baku airport, the possibility of basing new airlines is more complicated and depends on many factors, such as the strategic goals and route policy of the airlines. Theoretically, any airline with a fleet of 10 aircraft can be based.

- Are there any interesting and innovative infrastructure projects being developed at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport?

Yes, works are being carried out not only regarding the flight schedule, but also to ensure comfortable movement and efficient time spending of passengers at the airport. Baku Airport is actively working on the development and implementation of a number of infrastructure projects, some of which have already been commissioned.

One of them is related to the modernization of software and hardware for vehicle entry and exit and parking services. Now visitors can pay the parking charge both in cash and non-cash at payment terminals, and online. This also significantly improves comfort and efficiency. In addition, the new system applied at the entry-exit is based on the technology of automatic recognition of the vehicles registration plate, which, in turn, prevents the loss of time.

In particular, I would like to note that today the total number of parking spaces at the airport is 2 thousand, and the number of vehicles entering and leaving the territory during the day averages 14 thousand. The majority of car park users are those who leave their cars for short periods - up to 2 hours. Sometimes the parking area is crowded and the users find it difficult to get a parking space. Therefore, we are currently seeking to provide more efficient use of the parking area for short-term users. However, we are not stopping there; we have also envisaged the expansion of the parking area and building of additional places for more efficient use of the area in the future.

Furthermore, the innovative project “e-Gate” - the automation system of security screening process before boarding is already under implementation. The system is unique in that the passengers themselves will be able to access security zone simply by swiping their boarding pass. With this system, the procedure will be expedited making security checks more efficient.

Currently, “Passenger Flow Management System” project - a system for monitoring and optimizing passenger traffic in various areas of the airport - is being studied. This is a modern approach that allows optimal allocation of resources and ensuring a service of high quality.

There are also such goals as the renovation of the internal infrastructure of Heydar Aliyev International Airport, the modernization of lounges, restaurants and shops. All these measures are aimed at making passengers’ time at Baku airport more comfortable and efficient.

- Can you also talk about the conditions created at the airport for the socialization and adaptation of people with disabilities in society?

- Of course, inclusiveness and meeting the needs of every passenger is the most important task of Heydar Aliyev International Airport. Therefore, all terminals are designed with usability engineering, and the staff is trained to provide personalized services to those who need special assistance.

It should be noted that Heydar Aliyev International Airport is the first airport in the post-Soviet space to provide special assistance to passengers with so called “invisible” disabilities. The main goal of this project is to make flights more comfortable for passengers with special needs.

- In the end, what can you say about the strategic goals and priorities of Heydar Aliyev International Airport for the coming years?

- In the end, I would like to emphasize that the main strategic goal of Heydar Aliyev International Airport is to ensure the flight safety, the provision of high-quality services to airlines and passengers.

The provision of services of high-standard, the expansion of flight network and the introduction of advanced technologies promise to make travelling from Heydar Aliyev International Airport more comfortable and pleasant in the coming years.

- Thank you for your attention and time!