Tajikistan, Russia in Fresh Airlines Battle
As aviation authorities duke it out, labor migrants will feel the pinch as prices invariably rise.
Aviation authorities in Tajikistan and Russia are once again engaging in a seasonal battle of wills that may produce no winners, but will certainly leave innumerable hard-up Tajik migrant laborers counting their losses.
This time, the story began on March 12, when Tajikistan’s Transportation Ministry suddenly denied Yekaterinburg-based Ural Airlines permission to operate five routes connecting cities in the two countries.
The ostensible reason for this floated by Tajik aviation officials is that Ural Airlines is acting beyond the confines of a bilateral agreement granting Tajik and Russian air companies equal numbers of flights between the countries.
Since Tajik airlines — Tajik Air and Somoni Air — simply have no spare capacity to add further routes, Ural Airlines had little way to negotiate its way out of the impasse. So the Russian government came to the company’s aid on March 19 by punitively adjusting the flight plans of the two Tajik airlines in such a way that added an hour to their routes, with obvious cost implications.
Predictably, Dushanbe followed suit two days later by requiring similar flight path changes to Russian airlines operating routes to Tajikistan, which also include UTAir and S7.
Tajik aviation officials then went one further by declining to approve Ural Airlines’ summer flight schedule. Every six months, Tajikistan switches over to a summer flight schedule, which covers a period from March 26 to October 26.
As a result, Ural Airlines planes due to fly out from Yekaterinburg to Dushanbe and Khujand on March 25 were left stranded on the runway. Around 300 passengers were forced to wait around for 13 hours while frenetic negotiations were held between aviation officials from both sides.
A company representative from Ural Airlines told Eurasianet on condition of anonymity that the summer schedule issue was pushed back by three days, pending more talks, which means that unless a permanent solution is found, anybody holding tickets from March 29 onward will be stuck.
“Aviation authorities from both countries are still in talks and they have not yet come to a shared position,” the airline representative said.
A Russian transportation official has stated in an interview that unless matters are satisfactorily resolved, Somon Air will lose it Russian flight privileges.
This is not the first time this has happened. In November 2016, Tajikistan stripped Russia’s Yamal Airlines of its right to fly to Dushanbe and Khujand, citing similar parity issues to those being raised now. When Russia took aim at Somon Air, a resolution was swiftly found.
While Tajikistan argues that by enforcing international agreements, it is protecting the interests of its companies, what is also certain is that limiting competition invariable drives up prices for travelers. Tajik migrant laborers go abroad — predominantly to Russia — to earn money to send home, but their government is contriving to make that ever more difficult.