Tbilisi International Airport closed 2021 with very important and positive news: The most influential and prestigious consulting company in the aviation field, Skytrax, awarded it with a 5-star certificate in Covid-19 safety. Through an audit, Skytrax independent experts from Britain assessed over 150 protocols established in the airport for safety provision.
“Ensuring a safe environment for our passengers and employees remains our number one priority,” Tea Zakaradze, TAV Georgia’s General Manager, tells GEORGIA TODAY. “Despite the fact that the pandemic has been part of our lives for two years now, we exercise the same level of prudence and care toward keeping both the airports operated by us in full compliance with the standards recommended by WHO and other international organizations. We are very glad of the fact that so far only 20 airports have been rated 5-star globally, and Tbilisi International Airport is among them.”
TAV Georgia is the operator company of Tbilisi and Batumi International Airports. We spoke to Ms Zakaradze to find out about the company’s achievements, development plans and expectations for 2022.
What figures did the Tbilisi and Batumi international airports close the year with, and at what rate will passenger turnover return to pre-Covid norms?
Aviation was one of the fields that the pandemic hit worst globally, and it is still recovering today. The airports managed by TAV Georgia were no exception to this. In 2021, Tbilisi International Airport served 1,683,529 passengers, which is only 46% of the 2019 figures. We had the same number of passengers in 2014-2015. Much to our regret, we don’t have positive expectations in Tbilisi for 2022: based on our calculations, this year we can expect to regain just 59% of the passenger turnover that we had in 2019.
The Batumi International Airport figures are much more positive. Despite the fact that Batumi was practically inoperative for 10 months, we closed 2021 with 516,085 passengers, which was 83% of the 2019 passenger turnover. These figures once again visibly proved to us that despite the pandemic and the economic difficulties caused by it, we had made the right decision when we invested $17 million in the Batumi International Airport extension and renovation project in 2020-2021, through which we increased the airport capacity from 500,000 to 1,200,000. As a result, the renovated airport has made a great contribution to the readiness of the Adjara region to receive more tourists.
Further, through the right communication with our partner airlines and thanks to the beneficial terms that we offered them, Tbilisi International Airport regained 82% and Batumi International Airport 85% of the air companies that used to operate in them.
Did the pandemic lead to any changes in TAV Georgia’s plans in view of the infrastructural development of its airports?
An airport is like a living organism- it needs annual renewal and various infrastructure projects. Therefore, we couldn’t afford to stop or suspend the projects that we had been planning implementation of, regardless of the financial crisis resulting from the pandemic. Besides the large project implemented in Batumi, in March 2021, we started a new taxiway arrangement in Tbilisi International Airport, making an additional $2.5 million investment for it. The new taxiway will increase the runway capacity and make movement in the aerodrome more comfortable for airlines. The new taxiway will become operable in a few days, giving Tbilisi International Airport six taxiways in total.
In 2022, we are going to introduce new technologies to both Tbilisi and Batumi international airports. We have already implemented new electronic check-in systems (BRS, CAPS) that will make passenger check-in and the baggage sorting processes faster, simpler and more comfortable. By the end of the year, new modern technological systems will be introduced to the car park as well. From the infrastructural development viewpoint, we are planning to expand the Duty Free shops in both the airports operated by us and to offer our passengers a wider and even more attractive assortment of Georgian products to support and encourage the local market. Moreover, we are adding both restaurant and café style food courts in both airports. With our involvement, the famous British coffee house brand Costa Coffee is entering the Georgian market, opening its first facility in Tbilisi International Airport. We are also extending and renovating the airport’s VIP lounge for our priority passengers. We have many innovations and new developments. We do our best to allow our passengers to feel comfortable in our airports, and we hope that the current epidemiological situation will soon end both in our country and globally, letting people travel the world freely.