Turkish airport operator TAV, which owns Almaty Airport in Kazakhstan which has been engulfed by mass protests in recent days, will not withdraw from the former Soviet country but instead plans to invest a total of 200 million dollars (2.7 billion TL) in two or three years, its CEO said on Friday.
TAV CEO Sani Şener, speaking to Bloomberg HT on the impact of ongoing developments in Kazakhstan on TAV Airports investments and operations, said that all their staff are safe and in constant communication.
“We have been in close contact since the incidents began. All of our friends are safe, there is no problem in that sense,” he said, noting that armed protesters first occupied the airport and that the terminals were vandalized but the police and the military regained control.
“In the first two days, with the thought that the protests could be peaceful, the military and police intervention was minimal, but now there is a very serious intervention,” he said.
Şener said the airport was cleared on Thursday and cargo flights resumed.
There are very serious foreign investors in Kazakhstan, Turkish and foreign, he said, as well as some of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world, and what is happening is something unexpected for them.
The company’s CEO said they had enough experience in crisis management, however.
“The internet is down in the country and communication is very difficult, but we are making calls with satellite phones which we can use on those days,” he said.
Şener, who said that they don’t need a particular risk scenario because they have a risk scenario in general, and the current situation means a loss of only 10 days maximum according to what they see in the country.
“Almaty airport is the most important economic contribution of Kazakhstan. It is not possible to close it,” he said.
Şener noted that the rebels entered the airport and stores were looted, but other than that the systems were not damaged.
“We will definitely open the airport in a day or two and continue our investments. The constructions have already started, we have no need to withdraw. We will invest a total of 200 million dollars in two or three years” , he added.
Protests in the Central Asian country that began in response to a fuel price hike have turned into a widespread uprising against the government and former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, 81, the longest-serving leader of all former Soviet states.
On Friday, gunfire could be heard near Almaty’s main square, where troops had been battling protesters throughout Thursday. Armored personnel carriers and troops occupied the square.
Meanwhile, Russian soldiers have put Almaty airport “under full control”, Moscow authorities said on Friday.
Russian troops worked with their Kazakh counterparts to restore order at the airport, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Airport operations were halted after anti-government protesters occupied the transport hub earlier this week. Russia has deployed troops to the former Soviet state after Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev asked for help to quell protests.
Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and economic center, has now seen days of riots, including the burning of government buildings. Tokayev said Friday that Almaty was attacked by “20,000 bandits” with a “clear plan of attack, coordination of actions and high combat readiness”.
Şener, further commenting on investments by foreign companies in Kazakhstan, said that TAV purchased Almaty airport for $450 million with the loan from IAC and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD ). A Russian fund has also partnered with TAV to operate the airport with a 15% stake.
“Almaty is one of our important airports. It accounts for 20% of our overall revenue, but its difference from other airports is that 75% of Almaty airport’s revenue comes from cargo, ground handling services and aviation fuel. Thus, the passenger part represents only 25% of turnover. The closure of the airport due to the pandemic or any other reason and the reduction or cessation of passenger flights affects us very little. The important thing is that planes land there and maintain operations such as cargo transport, technical landings and ground handling services,” he said.