Aero Georgia Group sets out its stall for stable recovery and a clear rationale for growth.
“It began as a step by step process, closing flights and some markets like China, Iran and Italy – then the situation got worst globally.” That’s the tale told by Aero Georgia Group chief executive Igor Aptsiauri of how his country responded after its first confirmed COVID-19 case at the end of February. “We were forced to close all international and domestic, regular and charter flights by mid-March.”
The lockdown also got in the way of the development of Aero Georgia (Tbilisi), the airline being created by the Group. The certification process, however, is underway. The airline plans to focus on operating harters from Tbilisi to destinations in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
“The full lockdown meant more than 3.200 flights cancelled within that period, which represents about 33 passenger airlines that were flying to Georgia, and a lot of cargo airlines too. This brought a devastating loss to the Georgian economy, but safety comes first,” Aptsiauri confirms.
“Only repatriation flights were allowed, and with the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Economy, Georgian carriers were able to bring back more than 13.000 Georgian citizens stuck all over the world,” he continues. “They were then sent into quarantine for two weeks in pre-arranged facilities, some of them even being 4 or 5-star hotels. The system was coordinated and managed by the tourism administration, which did a fantastic job. Its efforts were recognised among international organisations and a lot of countries followed its example.”
Elaborating on how aviation in Georgia was impacted, the chief executive reports that the only operations not cancelled – and which actually increased – were cargo operations. “There was big demand for medical supplies and other humanitarian aid and freight that Georgia and Europe received from Asia. All the other flights were stopped, so the situation in general became very difficult for Georgian aviation companies.
“To help, Aero Georgia Group announced in April that we would provide aviation consultancy free to all companies in tourism and aviation,” says Aptsiauri. “We received a lot of requests from small and medium sized Georgian travel agencies, tour operators and so on. We were also glad to receive requests from neighbouring countries, which we really helped in terms of their restart and new strategic plans.”
Having helped others, Aero Georgia Group is keen to be helped by the restart of operations in Georgia. “We are glad from the beginning of July to be opening up our boundaries and are happy to receive international travellers and tourists. We are in talks with a lot of airlines and countries that confirmed their desire to start operating in Georgia,” Aptsiauri states. “Georgia is in a green zone, so first we will try to bring tourists from other green zones and so-called green bubbles that we are trying to create in the region.”
The next challenge is to certify the new airline, after which Aptsiauri is looking forward to meeting industry colleagues at CONNECT 2021 to discuss opportunities.