Aiming Big: Georgia's MyWay Airlines Plans Intercontinental Hub In Tbilisi
The tiny Caucasian country of Georgia could become a hub for intercontinental transfer traffic if Chinese-owned MyWay Airlines fulfils its five-year business plan.
Igor Aptsiauri, the start-up’s commercial director, says capital city Tbilisi has geographical potential for linking up flights between Asia and Europe, but is held back by the modest ambitions of flag-carrier Georgian Airways – currently the only local carrier with scheduled passenger flights.
“One of our biggest strategies that we have right now is we want to develop Georgia and Tbilisi Airport … further as a hub connecting Europe and Asia,” he told me.
“This will not happen at the early stages, of course. First we will concentrate more on point-to-point traffic [between Tbilisi and the rest of the world]. But, over the years, with the expansion of our network and our fleet, we will try to further increase the transit passengers.”
Aptsiauri estimates that just 5-6% of passengers landing in Tbilisi International Airport continue their journey with onward flights at present. He describes this as a missed opportunity for Georgian Airways, which deploys a fleet of eight mostly regional aircraft and accounts for less than one-sixth of the airport’s traffic.
Small countries like Georgia have a strong incentive for developing transfer flows through their hubs, as the added footfall allows operators to open routes that could not otherwise be supported by local traffic. If executed successfully, the business strategy can turn tiny origin-and-destination markets like Dubai or Iceland into goliaths that punch well above their weight on the global stage.
Invoking his experience as the former First Deputy Director of Georgia’s Civil Aviation Authority, Aptsiauri argues that the country needs “another Georgian airline” to take on this role and kick-start a new era of market development.
“What we see from Georgian Airways is they have their own niche market, they have their historical routes,” he says. “If you look at their development for the last ten years, it’s the same routes, it’s the same frequencies, the same fleet. They are more or less concentrating on their niche market … I guess [until now] they were pretty much happy with the situation that they were in.
“But, in the future, we [at MyWay] will also concentrate on connecting and transit passengers. I think in this way we will … be at some point bigger than Georgian Airways.”
He predicts that MyWay could lift the ratio of transfer traffic at Tbilisi to 40% in the long-term – significantly expanding traffic levels and connecting Georgia with a raft of new destinations.
MyWay obtained its Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) in January and expects to launch charter flights this month with a pair of Boeing 737-800s.
The airline will move to scheduled flying in April, gradually building up a network that consists of regional points like Moscow, Kiev, Minsk, Tehran, Tel Aviv, Dubai or Sharjah, and an unspecified city in Turkey. The delivery of two more 737-800s in July and December will see further expansion into the Middle East, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the European Union (EU).
Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and another point in Germany are likely to be the first EU destinations, though MyWay must first secure a Third Country Operator (TCO) certificate from the bloc. Targets to the East include the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as well as Urumqi in western China.
By far the most transformative growth will come in three to four years, however, when MyWay plans to receive its first Boeing 777.
“That will give us the ability to also look into transatlantic routes to the US,” Aptsiauri says, adding that wide-body aircraft capable of long-haul flights will be a “novelty” for the Georgian market. “We will also have a good opportunity to fly all the way to Beijing and further to maybe some other Far East destinations and to India.”
Until then, the commercial director is keeping a close eye on lone competitor Georgian Airways.
Just days after he disclosed MyWay’s plans, the flag-carrier held a press conference to announce the doubling of its network with 11 new international routes. Its first new flights are scheduled for later this month – exactly when MyWay takes to the skies.