Azerbaijan’s flag carrier Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) operated the first flight from the capital Baku to the Fuzuli International Airport in the Karabakh region on Sunday.
Airbus A340-500, which is the largest passenger aircraft in AZAL’s fleet, completed the flight 35 minutes after departing Baku. Journalists, travel bloggers, and representatives of various other organizations were the first passengers to arrive in the air harbor.
“One year ago, these lands were under the enemy’s [Armenia’s] occupation. Eleven months ago, severe fighting was taking place here,” Eldar Hajiyev, AZAL’s vice-president, told local media. “But today, two biggest aircraft of Azerbaijan Airlines are conducting technical arrival and departure flights. We are proud of it.”
Simultaneously with the passenger flight, the Baku-based Silk Way Airlines conducted the first cargo transportation on board the Boeing 747-400 airplane from Baku to the Fuzuli International Airport.
The flights were operated as test runs before the airport reaches full capacity. The primary goal of the flights was to check the technical capacity of the airfield, including mainly the runway.
The ground was broken for the Fuzuli International Airport in January 2021, shortly after the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the latter’s Karabakh region. The airport is being constructed by Azerbaijani and Turkish companies. President Ilham Aliyev said the airport in Fuzuli would serve as a “gate to Karabakh".
Currently, the overall construction work at the airfield is 95 percent completed. The runway spanning 3,000 meters in length and 60 meters in width is fully ready to receive flights. Earlier in July, AZAL installed the ground-based VOR/DME navigation system to transmit radio call signals from the airport. The European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation, known as EUROCONTROL, has already registered and approved the radio signs transmitted via the system.
Selim Akbay, project manager for one of twelve Turkish companies working at the airport, said the project will be finished by the end of September 2021. The full-swing operation of the airfield is expected sometime in early 2022.
The rise of the civil aviation infrastructure in the liberated Azerbaijani lands came as part of the state-run programs rolled out post-war.
Azerbaijan's Karabakh (Garabagh) region fell under Armenia’s occupation during the First Karabakh War in the early 1990s. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched a military campaign against Azerbaijan that lasted until a ceasefire deal was reached in 1994. As a result of the war, Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis were killed and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing policy carried out by Armenia.
On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict between the two countries spiraled after Armenia’s forces deployed in the occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During the counter-attack operations that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation. The war ended in a tripartite statement signed on November 10 by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Under the statement, Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani government launched construction of three new airports in the post-war region, including the Karabakh and East Zangazur economic zones. In addition to the Fuzuli International Airport, two airfields are currently being built in the Zangilan and Lachin districts. Runways of both airports, spanning 3000 meters in length, are designed to receive all aircraft types, including large cargo planes. The airfields are expected to become operational sometime in 2022.