Novaport to transform Sukhumi Airport into civil hub

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Russian aviation infrastructure firm Novaport is to upgrade Sukhumi International Airport ahead of restoring air services to and from Georgia's disputed breakaway province of Abkhazia.

Under a preliminary agreement with local authorities, the company will invest up to $100 million in the construction of a passenger terminal and ground equipment modernisation.

"Runways, apron and aircraft stands are in satisfactory condition," said Novaport managing director Mikhail Smirnov. "But the terminal building, refuelling complex, lighting, air navigation and towing amenities need to be developed from scratch."

Smirnov estimates that carrying out the project will take 12 to 14 months and investment could be recouped in eight years, with the airport's annual throughput reaching 250,000 passengers by 2015.

Novaport operates six Russian regional airports, including Novosibirsk, Chelyabinsk and Tomsk, and expects to earn revenues of Rb8 billion ($29 million) in 2011.

In addition to internal sources, the company wants to take bank loans to fund the development of Sukhumi Airport, which it also intends to operate. The local government is considering granting a concession or partially selling the facility to Novaport.

At present, Sukhumi serves only military transport and occasional charter flights. It is viewed as a possible backup facility during the Winter Olympics in nearby Sochi in 2014.

The Russian government in 2010 endorsed an air agreement with Abkhazia in principle and ordered the transport ministry to conclude it. But Georgian authorities strongly object to the region being served by foreign airlines, arguing this would be in contravention of international law.