Odessa Governor calls for ‘real’ open skies for Ukraine

A recent attack from the newly appointed Odessa governor and former President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili on the State Aviation Service Administration of Ukraine blaming its chief for using his flight assignment powers to preserve a near-monopolistic grip on the market, while protecting interests of individual oligarchs has resulted in immediate action which could finally bring open skies to Ukraine.

In a recent interview Saakashvili said controlled monopolies are driving the ticket prices too high making it unaffordable for most people to travel as the State are currently only permitting one company to fly to almost all domestic, as well international routes. This, he said, was only possible as the carrier has “representatives in the State Aviation Service Administration”.

Recognising the importance of efficient transportation and tourism development, Saakashvili is major advocate to liberalise aviation policies and is publicly supporting a campaign to develop Open Skies in Ukraine. While the authorities have said they would be liberal in operating licences for airlines seeking to fly from both Odessa and Lviv, Saakashvili told Routesonline this week that they are not delivering on this concept and the suggested their so-called open skies strategy is “not working in real life”.

As the result of Governor Saakashvili’s actions, a wave of changes has begun. The Chief of the State Aviation Service Administration of Ukraine and his team have been dismissed and modernisation and reformation of the regulatory authority has begun. Additionally, President Poroshenko issued a decree for the Cabinet of Ministers to urgently adopt an action plan to prepare for the introduction of a common aviation area with European Union and its Member States.

With the Crimea now occupied by Russia, Odessa is poised to become the new holiday hotspot in Ukraine. In recent years (before Crimea annexation) Odessa has welcomed an average of one million tourists a year, a business that currently accounts for a mere 1-1.5 per cent of the region’s economy, but which could easily generate far more revenue under the right conditions.

Latest data shows this transformation with tourist arrivals for 2015 already above 2.5 million. Governor Saakashvili believes that aviation services are critical for the renewed expansion of tourism to Odessa as well as travel to Ukraine by Ukrainian nationals living abroad.

“Open Skies policies will lead to expanded growth for international aviation service, creating new business for international air carriers. Establishing true Open Skies for Odessa will result in increased travel and trade, productivity, high-quality job opportunities and economic growth in the region,” he said.

“It’s time to recognise that Open Skies policies will allow air carriers to better meet the economic and development needs of the countries they serve,” he added.

Saakashvili believes that government must reduce interference in the commercial decisions of air carriers, thereby freeing them to provide market-oriented affordable, convenient and efficient air service for consumers.

“We have proved experience that Open Skies produced enormous benefits for passengers in the form of better quality, lower-priced and more competitive services,” he explained, highlighting his home nation of Georgia as a great example.

“In Georgia, since we liberalised the policies and signed the European Common Aviation Area agreement with European Union, traffic numbers have dramatically increased and currently Georgian airports serve four times more passengers than decade ago,” he added.

As the part of its development plan, Odessa Airport is currently implementing a large-scale upgrade project, which includes construction of the new passenger terminal and the airside rehabilitation. The total area of the new terminal is 28,000 square metres and will serve up to 2.5 million passengers per year once it opens in summer 2016.

A key part of its development plan is to expand the current network of flights on offer from Odessa Airport by attracting new airlines to the market and a special point of interest are the European low-cost carriers on which Odessa Airport officials and the Governor’s office are actively working together to attract. As a result of this collaboration, Odessa has already secured new daily routes to Minsk with Belavia and Chisinau with Air Moldova and company officials confirm to Routesonline that a few more "significant announcements" are expected in the coming weeks and months as negotiations enter their final phase.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…