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11 June 2020

Around European Aviation in 15 stops/interviews – Ukraine, Georgia, and Armenia in times of Covid-19

Alex Onatsky joined IATA in 2013 as Area Manager Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia, after working at Amadeus for 11 years, and Ukraine International Airlines for 4 years.

In normal times, he sits in Kyiv, Ukraine, but the Covid-19 outbreak caught him on a visit to New York City, where he still was in June! IATA member airlines in his cluster include Ukraine International Airlines and Georgian Airways.  

Alex in his own words:

“A third-generation aviation specialist, I am a veteran adventurer. Aviation and travel are my greatest sources of inspiration in life. I am also interested in oriental culture, jazz music and architecture. Mindfulness, practicing yoga and boardwalk running help me keep my inner harmony, good mood, and optimism”.

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Alex, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, particularly in such challenging times.

  • How is the situation for air transport in your countries and how badly has aviation been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis?

Much like everywhere else in the world, aviation was hit extremely badly. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, immediate severe travel restrictions were introduced in Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia. This resulted in practically 100% of the air transport industry being shut down. Minimal activity has been maintained as airlines continue to operate repatriation and cargo flights. In Ukraine 1.1% of GDP is supported by air transport and more than 140,000 jobs are at risk. For Georgia and Armenia, considering the geopolitical reality, aviation is a vital and strategic mode of transport, with the tourism sector representing more than 30% and 14% of their respective GDP. This gives a good indication of the scale of the problem.

  • How are the governments in your cluster responding to our sector’s crisis?

Governments have shown their willingness to support the industry and are being very collaborative. Unfortunately, this support is in no case comparable to that of some countries with more developed economies. As the situation is evolving, I would however like to seize the opportunity to call on governments to put aviation industry restart related measures much higher on their priorities list. The measures could include but not be limited to direct financial support in order to compensate reduced revenues and support liquidity, provision of loans, as well as the alleviation of government, airport and Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSP) related taxes and charges.

  • Refunds is a huge issue for our industry due to the financial liability. What is the situation in your markets?

The voucher option is a common practice in the countries that make up my cluster. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 both Ukraine International Airlines and Georgian Airways successfully utilize digital vouchers in exchange of cash refunds, providing additional flexibility to their passengers. Attractive exchange schemes with increased vouchers value have been proposed. I would like to thank the Government and Civil Aviation Agency of Georgia for adopting special amendments to the Georgian passenger rights legislation. Providing additional flexibility on compensation rules has allowed airlines to use alternative methods. A new legislation is now applicable to all flights departing Georgia.

  • What is the situation in terms of restart in the different countries that make up your cluster?

Transport and tourism are important economic pillars in the countries of my cluster, particularly Georgia and Armenia. Considering the positive numbers regarding Covid-19, the Ukrainian Government announced the restart of international flights and the opening of borders as of June 15. For Georgia, this will take place July 1.  Armenia still has not communicated a specific date. 

  • How can Ukraine and Georgia develop their air transport industries following this crisis?

Now is a good moment to reimagine the industry, increase its priority in government programs, modernize existing infrastructure. For example, in Ukraine there is a need to accelerate the master plan development of the Boryspil International Airport (KBP), promote regional airports and cargo terminals development. In Georgia, it is important to consider the further expansion of United Airports of Georgia. And in all the countries of my cluster it is key different stimulus for airlines are encouraged in order to restore pre-pandemic passenger’s traffic and stimulate a sustainable double-digit growth of air travel. 

 

Additional information:

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