Chisinau Airport under PAS: Mismanagement and Degradation

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Anton ŠVEC
Time and again, the current authorities demonstrate their inability to efficiently manage economic processes and publicly owned infrastructure. The Chisinau airport is another example, but not the only one
Based on last year’s Court of Appeal judgement, the Chisinau airport, with the cancellation of the illegal concession contract, became a state asset again. The legal procedures are completed, the government and the public property agency now control the strategic infrastructural object. Dorin Recean, Andrei Spinu, Dumitru Alaiba and Roman Cojuhari are those responsible who are ex officio obliged to ensure the smooth functioning of the airport, affordable ticket prices, attraction of airlines to serve priority directions and proper quality of services. Predictably, these officials fail to cope with their tasks, since a purely economic issue has little in common with pro-European demagogy and ridiculous political PR. The airport will not be integrated into the European Union using EU funds and European advisors faster than the rest of Moldova, so its destiny seems unenviable. We should admit that the air harbor fulfills its main purpose as intended by the West. Last week another American aircraft with weapons for the National Army landed in Chisinau. The consignment included, among other things, small arms, which can be used both to strengthen the offensive potential and to partially send to Ukraine. The involvement of Moldova’s logistical capabilities to supply Ukraine’s armed forces will increase further. In addition, we should not forget that the central airport has become a part of the authorities’ political PR, which allows them not only to promote the idea of “returning the facility to the people”, but also to show their loyalty and accountability to the West. The “green corridor” for citizens of the European Union, Ukraine, the USA and Great Britain, coupled with the political segregation of Russian and some other CIS countries’ citizens, allows to fuel the topic of the current regime’s geopolitical orientation. It is at the Chisinau airport that the authorities most ardently combat hybrid threats allegedly coming from Russia, fueling the degree of confrontation. The airport also makes it possible to filter the physical contacts of the Transnistrian administration with the outer world, banning some of its representatives from travelling, while others are threatened with searches, interrogations and arrests on charges of separatism. It is for this reason that the leader of the region, who used to visit Moscow regularly, did not dare to make such a trip this year. But if everything is fine with the fulfilment of political tasks, the rest of the situation is, to put it mildly, not so rosy. Civil aviation is in crisis, which has only worsened with the transfer of the airport to public ownership. It has become almost impossible to fly out of Chisinau cheaply and on time, flights are regularly delayed or cancelled. The state-owned airline Air Moldova has no aircraft and is idle, without particular prospects of resuming flights. The previously available low-cost carriers have left the Moldovan market and are not willing to return, despite Dumitru Alaiba’s photos outside the offices of foreign airlines. During the summer months, charter flights to southern and Balkan countries keep the airport afloat, but it is unclear how the airport will develop after the vacation period is over. Especially if the Turkish government starts reacting to the ruling regime’s oppression of its clients in Gagauzia. Recep Erdogan has already refused to attend the European Communities Summit, and it is difficult to predict what kind of relations Chisinau will have with Ankara in the future. Another financial scandal involving the airport erupted last weekend. In order to compensate for the revenues lost due to the reduction of the airport tax, the price of parking was doubled: for a parking space it was necessary to pay 20 lei per hour and 200 lei per day. The airport administration explained the situation by the intention to increase the attractiveness of the facility for investors, as well as by the change of priorities, according to which up to 25% of the airport’s profit should be generated by “external” services - cafes, restaurants, terminals, car parks (now 8-10%). In addition, as CEO of the airport management company Konstantin Voziyan assured, the repair of the car parking infrastructure, which was allegedly in a deplorable state, may require an investment of 300,000 euros. However, after Dorin Recean’s public discontent, the tariffs were radically changed, making parking free for the first 45 minutes and 10 lei for the first 3 hours. It is a good decision for people, but there are questions about how it will affect investors and investment, especially given the halving of airport services’ cost. In addition, the air harbor administration intends to invest huge sums in security - the security equipment may cost about 2.5 million euros. How such investments are justified in conditions when the government and the ruling regime cannot decide on the ownership of the airport is a big question. Formally, talks about the sale or re-concession of the airport have subsided in recent weeks, but it seems that the reason is not the strategic importance of the facility. The point is that with the reduction of available air corridors and the unwillingness of low-cost carriers to enter the Moldovan air transport market, the probable cost of the concession will not satisfy the government, which announced with fanfare the return of the facility to public ownership. At the same time, the issue of controlling military deliveries remains relevant, which limits the authorities’ flexibility in managing the facility. In any case, the cost of transport continues to rise, while its quality and the number of destinations are decreasing. This situation is to neighboring airports’ advantage, especially in Romanian Iasi. If Irish Ryan Air realizes its announced plans to restart flights from Ukraine (Kyiv and Lviv) by the end of the year, the Chisinau airport will no longer be in demand. The authorities have got the most out of the cancellation of the airport concession initiated by the Ion Chicu government. However, they have not learnt how to manage this important infrastructure facility (as well as the socio-economic sphere of the state). Workshops and coffee-breaks are not enough. We need particular projects and serious programs, which will have to be prepared in the context of flight safety risks and the financial-economic crisis. We cannot expect that the regime will be more successful now than in the case of agricultural sector’s devastation. The consequences of the rule of “good people” will be a heavy burden for future generations.