The first plane took off from Abu Dhabi to Baku on a direct flight last week. With an increasing number of Emiratis visiting Azerbaijan, Etihad Airways, based in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, finally launched direct flights to Azerbaijan.
With a special delegation and managers from Etihad Airways, diplomats, and media representatives on board, the national air carrier of the UAE dispatched its first airplane to Baku on March 2, based on an agreement with its Azerbaijani counterpart Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL). The Abu Dhabi-Baku segment will now be carried out weekly on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, on board Etihad’s 136-seater Airbus A320 jet, with 120 seats in economy and 16 in business. Tickets cost around $340.
“Azerbaijan and the UAE are linked by regular passenger transportation, and the opening of joint flights between the airlines will allow Azerbaijani citizens to further expand the geography of flights, will attract additional flow of tourists and create more opportunities for business trips,” AZAL President Jahangir Askerov said in a meeting with Etihad Airways Chief Executive Officer Peter Baumgartner on the day of Etihad’s maiden voyage to Baku, according to a statement issued on the company’s website.
Azerbaijan has been wooing tourists in recent years by simplifying its visa procedures and allowing them to apply and receive one when arriving at the airport. Etihad reported that in the wake of Azerbaijani visa relaxation, around 100,000 Emiratis now visit the Caspian country annually.
Etihad Airways is the third Emirati airline to break into Azerbaijan’s aviation market share, after Fly Dubai and Air Arabia began offering round-trips, from Dubai and Sharjah, respectively. On average, 45 flights per week take place between the Gulf country and Azerbaijan. Air Arabia is planning to launch a direct flight to the northern city of Gabala beginning in July.
"The simplified visa application program introduced by Azerbaijan for the UAE nationals in 2015 strongly stimulated interest in the country, which led to a large increase in tourist flow," Etihad Airways CEO Peter Baumgartner said in Baku last week.
The Culture and Tourism Ministry of Azerbaijan announced in January that the UAE was among the top five countries to send tourists to Azerbaijan in 2017, alongside Russia, Georgia, Iran, and Turkey. Over 102,000 Emiratis traveled to Azerbaijan last year, which was nearly a two percent increase from 2016 figures, making up 3.8 percent of Azerbaijan’s 2.69 million tourists.
Rashid Al Noori, chairman of Atlantis Holidays in Dubai and a representative of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the UAE, said Baku attracts the Emirati families that are looking to escape the UAE summer heat, as well as short break travelers.
"It is safe and there is excellent food,” Al Noori said, according to the Emirati publication The National. “The average stay is four nights and we are seeing a superb number of repeat visitors because the destination is so close. In 2014 there was only a couple of hundred Emiratis travelling here every month."