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25 Mar, 2008 20:12

Russia & Georgia restore direct flights

Air passengers can again travel directly between Russian and Georgia, 18 months after political strife caused flights to be stopped. Moscow and Tbilisi are less than three hours apart, and with daily flights and affordable tickets, it looks set to be a po

The first passenger plane from Georgia has landed at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport on Tuesday. Flights were suspended in November 2006, after Georgian authorities charged four Russian diplomats with spying. In the fallout, Moscow pulled out most of its diplomatic staff from Tbilisi, and cut air, sea and postal links.

Georgia claimed the actions were politically motivated, but Russia said flights were stopped because Georgian air carriers had run up debts of $US 3.7 million for air navigation services.

Air executives in Tbilisi say debts were incurred by companies which went bankrupt in the early 90s.

“Our company did not have any debts, any arrears before the Russian authorities,” said Vice-President of Airzena Georgian Airlines, Roland Beridze.

Nonetheless, flights to Russia made up almost 35% of business, and Georgian air carriers did pay the money that was asked.

“Our company, in order to resume the flights, in the interests of the people of both countries, decided to make a commitment. We paid a certain amount of money which I think helped boost the negotiations between the authorities of Russia and Georgia,” Beridze also said.

In February this year the leaders of the two countries agreed to renew flights.