Russia breaks off air links to Georgia amid hostilities

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Russia has reimposed a ban on all flights to Georgia in the wake of an escalating armed conflict between the two nations over South Ossetia.

The Russian transport ministry issued an order that air services with Georgia must be halted from 9 August.

The two sides had only restored bilateral air links in March after an 18 months break as a result of mounting political tensions.

Under the new directive, Aeroflot and S7 Airlines promptly cancelled 10 scheduled weekly flights to the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

Their counterparts AirZena Georgian Airways and National Airlines were barred from providing 10 regular services to Moscow.

Georgian operator TAM Air has had to abandon plans to begin serving Russian cities Sochi, Rostov-on-Don and MinVody from Tbilisi and Batumi.

S7 Airlines is reported to have changed the route plan of its Moscow-Yerevan scheduled flights to bypass Georgia's air space and use that of neighbouring Azerbaijan.

Tbilisi Airport's website shows a number of flights by foreign operators, alongside Russian carriers, as cancelled.

Star Alliance member Austrian Airlines Group for example has temporarily suspended its four times a week service to the Georgian capital.

An Austrian spokesman says: "We cancelled the flight on 8 August and yesterday. We will also cancel the flight today, 13 August and 15 August. It is because of the political situation. We think that a 100% safe operation cannot be guaranteed. Safety for our passengers, crews and aircraft comes first." He adds that the situation will be reviewed over the coming days.

Turkish Airlines has also now cancelled its twice daily flights to Tbilisi and daily service to another Georgian airport, Batumi.

After inspecting Tbilisi airport, economic development minister Eka Sharashidze has said it provides the required security and operates normally despite its proximity to the war zone.

Last year Tbilisi International Airport handled 615,000 passengers, up 7% year-on-year, while the combined throughput at the airports of Batumi and Kutaisi rose 9% to 665,000. The country's transport authority has attributed an upward trend to the growing presence of foreign airlines which account for 64% of the local air market.

Lead image: © PA Photos
An unidentified fighter jet drops munitions near the Georgian town of Gori