Azerbaijan 2014 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jahangir Askerov, President of Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL), on air safety, the National Aviation Academy, and the expansion of Heydar Aliyev International Airport.

Jahangir Askerov
Jahangir Askerov was born in Baku in 1950, studied Civil Aviation, and later graduated as an Engineer-Pilot from the Leningrad Civil Aviation Academy in 1980. He has had a long and successful career in aviation, and is currently the President of AZAL.

The recent tragedy involving the Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has brought up the issue of air safety once again. As an aviation expert, how would you evaluate the safety of air transport of goods and passengers in Azerbaijani air space?

As National Leader Heydar Aliyev used to say, “the most important task of aviation is to ensure safety." And we are trying to stick to this directive. Constant attention is being paid to improving the safety of flights in Azerbaijan. At present, all international airports of the Republic of Azerbaijan operate the most sophisticated navigation equipment, which is confirmed by relevant certificates issued by the International Civil Aviation Organizations. On October 2, 2013, President Ilham Aliyev attended the opening ceremony of the new building for the main air traffic control center of AzerAirNavigation. This organization manages flights in Azerbaijani airspace at all of the country's airports. It operates a system enabling the automated control of aircraft traffic along a certain route, during a flight and in landing, and provides for a high level of safety. The national flag carrier, Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL), has been included on the IOSA register, an audit of International Air Transport Association (IATA) operators, and is a fully fledged member of the community of the world's safest airlines.

You recently participated in the 19th ICAO Regional Aviation Safety Meeting in Baku. How do you view the importance of such international forums to enhance security in civil aviation?

The active participation in all regional meetings, the introduction of new technologies, procedures, and recommended ICAO practices have enhanced the economic attractiveness of our country's airports for airlines around the world and contributed to a steady increase in traffic intensity and safety in Azerbaijan's airspace. To date, the trend toward an increase in air traffic shows Azerbaijan's importance from the standpoint of regional transport infrastructure development. In this regard, the fact that the 19th ICAO Regional Aviation Safety Meeting was held in Baku was particularly relevant. Regional civil aviation organizations periodically conduct international ICAO meetings here in Azerbaijan, which attests to the interest of the world aviation community in Azerbaijan's aviation potential and a recognition of a proper level of aviation safety in our country.

During our last interview, you mentioned the accomplishments of the National Aviation Academy (NAA) of Azerbaijan. What important developments have taken place at the Academy over the last year?

On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the National Leader of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev and on the initiative of the rector of the NAA, Academic Arif Pashayev, a Museum of Heydar Aliyev was opened on May 6, 2013. In 2013, a new four-story building with 65 classrooms was officially put into operation. The first floor of the academic building is equipped with the necessary infrastructure for modern laboratories and specialized classrooms. In cooperation with AzerAirNavigation, an Automated Meteorological Observation Station (AWOS), fitted with modern equipment, has been installed on the territory of the NAA's Technopark. The construction of a two-story dormitory for 100 students has also been completed on the NAA campus. By order of the rector of the NAA dated October 1, 2013, the IATA Institute has been set up within the NAA. The IATA Institute has been accredited to provide training in four areas: transport of dangerous goods by air; aviation security; cabin crew training; and freight transportation. In 2014, the NAA plans to establish cooperation with the Educational Center of the European Joint Aviation Authorities, the Moscow Physical-Technical Institute, and the Technical University of Berlin.

The Heydar Aliyev International Airport is benefitting from renovation and expansion projects, such as a new terminal complex and a new air traffic control center. What will this new capacity allow?

I am confident that the new terminal will be one of the most beautiful and comfortable terminals for passengers in the world. Its appearance, design, and the infrastructure have been made at the highest level. The terminal will have the capacity for up to 6 million passengers annually, whereas, in comparison, the old passenger terminal could only process 3 million passengers a year. The total area of the complex is 65,000 sqm. The terminal has 30 escalators and 20 passenger elevators. The new facility is based on the latest scientific and technological achievements in the field of international aviation, including the so-called smart airport model. And, of course, the new airport terminal will be very comfortable for passengers—it has numerous recreation areas, high-speed internet access, cafés, restaurants, and other catering establishments from renowned brands. The high level of service and comfort will be particularly important in attracting transfer passenger traffic via the Heydar Aliyev International Airport and using the transit opportunities stemming from Azerbaijan's favorable geographic location. With regard to the air traffic control center, the commissioning of the equipment available in it will increase both the airport's capacity and transfer flows. The system controls the dispatching, radar, flight data, and flight plans online in conjunction with the relevant air traffic control centers of neighboring countries.

What new international connections is AZAL expecting to establish in the coming year?

At the end of May 2014, AZAL plans to open six new flight destinations from Heydar Aliyev International Airport, to Nizhny Novgorod, Minsk, Krasnoyarsk, Perm, Kazan, and Rostov. All these cities are home to a large number of ethnic Azerbaijanis, and regional diaspora leaders have repeatedly asked the national carrier of Azerbaijan to launch regular flights to their cities. However, in addition to direct traffic flow, we also expect to attract transfer passengers from these cities to AZAL's international route network. In addition to flights from Baku, we will also open international destinations from Ganja to Mineralnye Vody and Antalya. Ganja is a dynamically developing airport, and we intend to do everything to facilitate the growth of passenger traffic from there. There are also plans to launch a new domestic destination: Gabala-Nakhichevan. However, the most significant of the new routes will undoubtedly be the first intercontinental flight from Baku to New York. We plan to start regular flights to the US at the end of the summer season and have already received a permit from the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), the experts of which have praised the level of Azerbaijan's aviation safety compliance with international standards. This will be the first flight from our region to North America, and serves as further evidence of the status of AZAL as a regional leader in the field of passenger transportation.

What will AZAL's main projects be in 2014-2015?

This year will mark the start of operations at the new passenger terminal of Heydar Aliyev International Airport and the opening of the region's first regular flights to the US. However, this is not all. Today, Azerbaijan is known as a tolerant, sports-centric country and an attractive tourist destination, which regularly holds international exhibitions, festivals, and prestigious competitions. The European Gymnastics Championship will take place in 2014 and the inaugural European Games in 2015 to be held in Azerbaijan will signal the start of a new period in the European sports movement. We all know that during such activities civil aviation plays a huge role, and it is gratifying to note that the national flag carrier AZAL has been selected as the official carrier of the upcoming Games.