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Kadyrov Orders Up Airline for Chechnya

The administration of Chechnya announced Friday that it would open its own airline, Grozny-Avia, this fall in what might be further evidence of a return to some kind of normalcy in the southern republic.

While many of the company's prospective passengers welcomed the announcement, hoping that it would mean an improvement in service
-- particularly to and from Moscow -- there was also concern that the new airline, created with public funds, would end up the property of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and those in his administration.

"This is the first company owned by the republic of Chechnya, and it will begin to fulfill its obligation in carrying passengers," a statement Friday from Kadyrov's administration said.

The airline is being created on Kadyrov's orders, and the funding for its establishment will come from a regional social fund named after the leader's father, former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in 2004.

Grozny-Avia's first flight, from Grozny to Moscow, is scheduled for the end of September.

Grozny-Avia is starting out on a small scale, but airline general director Alik Zulgayev said expansion would soon follow.

"With money from the Akhmad Kadyrov fund, in the last few days we purchased our first 120-seater, a Yak-42 airplane," Zulgayev said. "It is one of the best planes on the Russian market."

Zulgayev added that the plane was being repainted with the company's logo and traditional Chechen motifs, the Regnum news agency reported Friday.

After a major amount of preparation, all the necessary paperwork was handed in last month, Zulgayev said, adding that the carrier would look to buy several more Yakovlev planes in the future.

Any future routes to be flown by the airline would be determined by passenger demand, he said.

After being almost entirely destroyed by fighting in two separate secessionist conflicts and closed down for almost a decade, Grozny's airport was opened to passengers in March after half a year of reconstruction.

The Kremlin and Kadyrov's administration have spent huge sums in an attempt to rebuild the war-torn republic, as fighting in the region has practically come to an end. Reports of kidnappings and widespread human rights abuses by paramilitary forces under the control of Kadyrov, however, have continued since his appointment by President Vladimir Putin in March.

Flights to Grozny were halted after masked men boarded a plane to Moscow in 1999 and kidnapped the Interior Ministry's top envoy to the region.

Regular flights were resumed on March 8, International Women's Day, when an Aeroflot-Don Tu-134 touched down from Moscow. Passengers were greeted by a triumphant Kadyrov, who presented all the women on board with bouquets of roses, to the accompaniment of a pop concert.

Passenger services are currently handled by Vainakhavia, the company that manages Grozny airport, with about 20 flights landing there weekly.

Local residents using the service to Moscow have been less than pleased with the current service and said Friday that they hoped the new carrier would bring an improvement.

"I've flown a few times from Grozny to Moscow and back and was very unsatisfied with the flights. There are constant extended delays -- sometimes of a few hours and other times until the next day," said Zulai Ibragimova, 43. "I hope that Grozny-Avia will have more consideration for the interests of its passengers and try to attend to them."

At least one other prospective passenger, however, was more concerned about who would end up controlling the publicly funded airline.

"So all of the republic's property is being scooped up by Ramzan Kadyrov and his team. Now the local airline will also belong to him," said Sharip Isayev, 28. "This is all paid for either with state money or by money from the Kadyrov fund, and then handed directly over to Ramzan Kadyrov."

As for safety on the new airline, David Learmont, a safety analyst for industry magazine Flight International, said Grozny-Avia would be subjected to a rigorous approval process.

"It will, or should be safe because Moscow and the aviation authorities will have to certify it as fit to operate," Learmont said.

With regard to broader safety concerns associated with the region's history, he said passengers would have to make their own judgments.

"As for whether this airline is going to get shot down by a hand-held missile, then that is matter for the potential passengers," Learmont said. "Is there a reason why it would be more of a target than a Moscow-based operator? I think that the opposite might be the case."

(The Moscow Times 20.viii.07)

 
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