Azerbaijan aims to become a major regional hub for air cargo and passenger transit by developing its infrastructure and utilizing its unrivaled geographic position. Baku is already the busiest port in the Caspian region, and with the expansion of Heydar Aliyev International Airport’s cargo facilities, the city can also serve as the gateway to Central Asia for major couriers. Additionally, with the construction of the new modern terminal at Heydar Aliyev International, air transportation will be the key to growth in a number of industries and increase the volume of inbound and transit passengers.
The airfreight business is already a thriving part of Azerbaijan’s overall transportation sector. In 1Q 2011 air couriers exported 181,000 tons of cargo, a figure that actually exceeded maritime transport. The Baku Cargo Terminal (BCT) opened in 2005 and is one of the largest and most technically advanced cargo terminals in the CIS region. The terminal building covers 12,000 square meters, with the total apron area covering 163,000 square meters able to handle four Boeing 747s or four AN124s and seven IL76 aircraft. The 3,500-meter CAT-III certified runway can land aircraft in close to zero visibility. Its warehouse area boasts essential cooling facilities, making Baku an attractive transit spot. Today, Baku Cargo Terminal serves as a major hub for cargo handling in the region, and plans are in place to increase the volume of cargo handled.
A handful of cargo carriers currently operate out of Baku, including Cargolux, Lufthansa, Silk Way Airlines, and Coyne Airlines. As in the marine shipping industry, oil and gas dominates the airfreight business in Azerbaijan. Much of the cargo that Cargolux transports is equipment for oil and gas drilling as well as pipeline construction. The courier is expanding its fleet through the acquisition of 15 Boeing 747-800s, three of which will be delivered in 2011. At present, Cargolux averages 30 flights into and out of Baku per week, and through cooperation with Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) and Silk Way, the firm can deliver equipment all over the world. Lufthansa is limited in the volume of cargo it can move because its flights also carry passengers. The German national carrier has four flights to and from Baku each week and transports 1,500 tons of cargo per year. While Lufthansa has mainly catered to the oil and gas industry in the past, its services have expanded to other industries.
The government’s goal of promoting Azerbaijan as a major tourist destination is dependent on the presence of an air transportation network that can bring tourists to and from the country and the infrastructure to do so safely and conveniently. Presently a number of regions around the world, namely North and South America, are not connected to Azerbaijan by direct flight. AZAL, which currently only serves destinations in Central Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, is working to modernize its fleet and expand its range farther afield. AZAL has relegated its aging fleet of Tupelovs to domestic flights and is in the process of developing a fleet of long-range aircraft purchased from Boeing and Airbus. In 2014 AZAL expects to take delivery of two Boeing Dreamliner aircraft, at which time long-haul flights to the US will become possible.
An additional 30 carriers fly to Baku from various destinations. National carriers like Aeroflot, Lufthansa, and Austrian Airlines provide links to major European destinations. Other airlines are regional carriers that serve cities in the Middle East, Russia, and other CIS countries. Turkish Airlines and AnadoluJet connect Azerbaijan with Turkey, a key trade partner.
Most international airlines fly out of Heydar Aliyev International Airport, located northeast of Baku on the Caspian coast. The current airport has two runways—2,700 and 3,200 meters—and was last renovated in 1999. Currently, British design firm ARUP is expanding the facilities at Heydar Aliyev International, constructing a new terminal building and a new 4,000-meter runway. The new terminal is being built according to international standards of quality, safety, aesthetics, and convenience. The terminal will take the shape of an inverted triangle and has been designed to withstand earthquakes. It will also have new, expanded facilities for baggage and cargo. Upon completion the airport will be able to accommodate 3 million visitors per year. The fully renovated airport is set to enter service in 2013, at which time the current airport will become the domestic terminal. After Azerbaijan won the opportunity to host the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, the Deputy President of AZAL, Sabir Ilyasov, announced that the airport’s facilities would be ready ahead of schedule to accommodate the expected wave of tourists.
© The Business Year