Whilst Azerbaijan is known for the vast oil reserves that fuel its economy, since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country has also grown to be a strong aviation hub in the Caucasus region.
Located on the crossroads between Eastern Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan is a coastal country on the Caspian Sea that shares borders with Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia and Turkey to the west, and Iran to the south.
With six international Airports and one flag carrier airline, the country is the aviation leader amongst the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) receiving the most traffic of both passenger and cargo aircraft as well counting the most take-off and landing operations.
Heydar Aliyev International
Serving as Azerbaijan’s main international airport, Heydar Aliyev is located 25km away from the country’s capital Baku. Historically the airport was established by the Russian administration when Azerbaijan was part of the USSR. In 1998 it was expanded in two phases that completely demolished the Russian terminal and constructing the one used today.
By 1999 all renovation projects were complete and the airport was equipped with a new baggage handling system and flight information displays, along with upgraded air conditioning and plumbing facilities. Now fully in accord with the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) standard, the airport is capable of comfortably receiving 10 million passengers annually.
Heydar Aliyev International counts two runways, one paved in asphalt measuring 2,700m and the second extending 3,200m and constructed out of concrete. Terminal 1 is capable of docking 12 aircraft simultaneously which are boarded by jet bridges, two of which are suited for larger aircraft such as the A380. On the other hand, the much smaller second terminal is dedicated primarily to domestic routes but adds low-cost international flights to its schedules.
It is the most active airport in the Caucasus region seeing 4.7 million visitors in 2019 and welcomes aircraft from such fliers as Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Etihad Airways and flydubai.
Serving the second largest city of Azerbaijan, Ganja International was established as a base for the Soviet Air Force before seeing civilian use. Receiving its international status in 1996, the airport has one 3,300m asphalt runway and is undergoes primarily domestic flights by Azerbaijan Airlines adding several international destinations in Turkey and Russia.
From 2013 onwards the airport has seen a gradual decline in traffic peaking with over 345,000 travelers down to 154,000 in 2019.
A small international airport, Lankaran is located in south-east Azerbaijan and received its international standing in 2008, after 3 years of refurbishment.
With its single 3,300m runway, the airport currently serves two airlines, the Russian Ural, which schedules flights to Moscow, along with Azerbaijan Airlines.
Constructed in the 1970s, this airport serves the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan. It saw a drastic expansion during the late 90s as a result of political turmoil in the region that made the airport the region’s single portal to the outside world. With a new terminal constructed between 2002-04 along with a reconstructed runway, Nakhchivan airport received international certification.
Final improvements in 2015 saw the airport capable of accommodating 400-450 travelers per hour along with upgrading the baggage conveyor belt, integrating two jet bridges and adding escalators and lifts. Furthermore, separate gates were created for arrivals and departures.
To date, the airport sees flights to such destinations as Baku, Istanbul and Moscow.
The latest addition to Azerbaijani airports, Gabala International’s construction initiated in January of 2011 and was officially inaugurated in November of the same year.
Like Lanakaran, this airport is also frequented by Azerbaijan and Ural Airlines, handling domestic flights and currently crediting Moscow as its sole international destination. The airport also saw limited traffic from such fliers as flydubai, Air Arabia and Pegasus that gave the airport connections to the Gulf region and Turkey.
Azerbaijan’s final international airport saw its most recent terminal and airway improvements in 2008, when it received international status. Found at the foot of the Caucasus range, the airport has a 2,200m airport and is currently out of service with no scheduled flights.
Breaking away from the shared Soviet flier Aeroloft, Azerbaijan Airlines was established in 1992. The Airline’s initial fleet was largely inherited from Aeroloft and included a range of aircraft such as over 20 Tupolev airplanes, along with freighters, light aircraft, and helicopters. This was complemented by a pair of 1968 Boeing 727s leased from Pan Am.
With its base in Heydar Aliyev International, the airline saw initial expansions adding more international destinations such as Istanbul, Dubai and London, along with placing orders for new aircraft and earning a membership in IATA. During the late 90s amid political and financial troubles, several unprofitable routes were dropped and orders were canceled. The situation remained so until 2001 when the airline managed to pay its debt and place orders for new aircraft.
Today Azerbaijan Airlines has a fleet of 31 aircraft including eight ERJ 190-100AR, six A320-200s and two A340-500. It serves 36 destinations (2019) including Ankara, Dubai, London, and Frankfurt.
The budget subsidiary airline of Azerbaijan Airlines, Buta Airways was founded in 2016 to increase client outreach and increase travelers to Azerbaijan. As a virtual carrier, the airline serves 21 destinations that include Moscow, Sofia, and Odesa using a fleet of eight ERJ 190-100ARs.
More to Come
Although it is clear that Azerbaijan is the aviation hub of the Caucasus region, there is still plenty of room for improvement, especially in the gap of private local airlines, that could increase commercial and charter traffic. As we ease out of the global pandemic that stifled the aviation industry, Azerbaijan will retain its place as a leading power in the Caucasus region and perhaps grow to impact greater Eurasia.