The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) plans a so-called aviation Silk Road initiative for the integration of Central Asia and surrounding regions into a cohesive trading belt. The aviation route at first will include northern, northwest and central China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Azerbaijan, eastern parts of Turkey, southwest Russia, Armenia and Georgia.
The Silk Road or Silk Route–an ancient network of trade routes that connected the West and East by merchants and pilgrims from China and India to the Mediterranean Sea—inspired the name of the initiative to promote open skies in the region.
“Embracing open skies is vital for the region if the concept has to be successful,” said Alla Peressolova, head of the Silk Road program of the UNWTO. “Building a cohesive brand of the Silk Route is important.” The “brand,” as she called it, includes best practices to encourage openness through the modernization of visa procedures and enhancing connectivity through increased collaboration between airports, airlines and aviation ministries,” she said during the Routes Silk Road conference held in Tbilisi, Georgia, earlier this month.
However, a monopoly in aviation services in major countries of the Silk Route means open skies for the region as a whole “does not seem feasible,” Yolanta Strikitsa, director of London-based Strikitsa Consulting, told AIN. “Yes, it could apply to a few countries to start with,” she added. “[Competition would] make the life of local airlines very difficult, but could improve airport business of the region…A flight is not yet a commodity, it is a luxury as demand exceeds supply. Therefore, a market that demands increased operations and more routing can pay higher fares imposed by local carriers.” Once middle classes grow, partnerships will more likely and changes in strategy seen, she explained.
Change of another kind has come with Georgia’s inclusion as a member of Eurocontrol, the European Organization for Safety of Air Navigation. Eurocontrol is now offering its expertise to establish air traffic management guidelines for Georgia’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). “Some of the EU regulations are tough for our local carriers…But now the draft is ready and will be presented to the parliament on December 1 for approval,” Igor Aptsiauri, first deputy director of Georgia’s CAA, told AIN.
Meanwhile, regional carriers like Kazakhstan’s Air Astana have already begun to play a role in the Silk Route. Holding a 30-percent market share, Air Astana dominates air transport in Central Asia. The next largest carrier, Uzbekistan Airways, controls 15 percent of the traffic, followed by Kazakh SCAT Airlines, which holds around 8 percent. Eight other regional carriers hold the rest. Air Astana’s passenger numbers increased by 4 percent, to 1.82 million, in the first half of 2015 over the same period of the previous year. It holds an order for seven Airbus 320-family neos, including four long-range A321s, scheduled for delivery starting in 2016.
OEMs project a positive outlook for the region over the next 20 years. Boeing has forecast a demand for 1,150 new aircraft, 66 percent of which it expects single aisle airplanes to comprise and 17 percent regional jets.