Winter 2002 (10.4)
Then and Now
Airline Industry in Azerbaijan
by Sabina Sharifova
British Airways' Baku Manager, Sabina
Sharifova, 27, is part of a contingent of young, bright Azerbaijani
women who are quickly working their way up the corporate ladder.
It's a noticeable trend that has developed over the past few
years, signaling a dramatic departure from the hiring patterns
of the Soviet era. In our look back at the past 10 years, we
asked Sabina to reflect on some of the significant changes that
she has seen in the travel industry.
We've seen enormous growth here
at British Airways since we opened the first international air
service here in 1995. At that time, we offered flights only three
times a week, using Boeing 737s. In April 2000, our Baku-London
route was incorporated into the regional network operated by
franchise partner British Mediterranean Airways, using Airbus
A320 aircraft. Slowly but steadily, the number of flights increased
to four, five and then six a week. As of last year, we began
offering daily flights on the Baku-London route, with ongoing
flights to Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) and Almaty (Kazakhstan).
Left: The administrative staff of British
Airways in Baku. The sales office is located in the Hyatt International
Center on Ismir Street.
These days, of course,
security is on everyone's minds. Our top priority is, and always
has been, the safety and security for our passengers and staff.
When people speculated that British Airways (being British and
somehow aligned with the United States), would become a target
for terrorists, we didn't panic. We have added additional security
measures here, however. For instance, we have a control check
every two or three weeks just to make sure that the staff knows
how to respond in case there ever was an emergency situation.
There is also a high level of security at Baku's airport. Recently,
an independent inspector from the British Airport came and checked
on the security at the airport. He concluded that it was close
to 100 percent satisfactory.
In my opinion, Baku's new airport is the finest in the region,
superior to both Georgia and Kazakhstan. I remember the early
days, working at the old Baku airport, when I worked at the airport
check-in and sold tickets as a multi-functional agent. Those
days aren't so long ago but when I look back, I wonder how we
ever survived. It was so hot and stuffy days in the summer with
no air-conditioning. But in winter, we would nearly freeze. You
could feel the wind blowing right through the baggage claim area.
Back then, the computer and telecommunications systems were completely
unreliable. The computer system was almost always down. We would
spend nearly all day trying to put a call through to the BA office
in Moscow to book the tickets. The only reliable systems we had
were telephone and fax; of course, there was no such thing as
e-mail in those early days.
Left: British Airways' Hot Air Balloon on
display in Baku.
There's been considerable
change in hiring practices in Azerbaijan's travel industry over
the past few years. Back when I was first hired, seven years
ago, the ability to speak English was the greatest advantage
in landing a job. The situation lasted only for about three years.
Once the FSA [Freedom Support Act] exchange students began returning
from the United States, there were many young people who were
fluent in English. In turn, that meant that being English fluency
did not guarantee job security.
Now I'm in the position to do the hiring. What I look for most
in a young person is potential and intelligence. Our work is
highly detailed-oriented so we train for each position. It's
much easier for me to hire a young, inexperienced person than
it is to hire someone who has worked under the old Soviet system.
So I look for people who have good communication skills and an
attitude of service. Psychologically, our employees have to work
as a team. They have to be open minded, not arrogant.
Despite the fact that more people know English these days, I'm
think that hiring is more difficult because young people have
higher expectations. They are more ambitious, and they don't
want to begin at entry-level positions. When they come for the
interview, they immediately inquire about their salary. But the
truth is: not everyone can be a manager. Our youth have to be
willing to start at the bottom and work their way up.
Let's say I want to hire someone to answer phones all day. When
I was starting out, I thought this job was very interesting.
You get the chance to talk to so many people every day. Sure,
it doesn't draw a high-level salary, but it's a place to start
out for a year or so. These days, it's becoming more difficult
to fill that type of position. People turn up their noses at
entry-level jobs, despite how tight the job market is. It's seems
it's all about money now - rather than the excitement of working
for an airline - as it was when I first started.
I'm one of the youngest managers in Baku right now. Actually
when they offered me the position several years ago, I was quite
surprised. I never expected such an opportunity would open so
quickly for me. At first, I wondered whether I would be able
to cope. But then I realized that with five years of experience,
I knew almost everything that I needed to know. I discovered
that the staff did trust me and saw me as a leader. When I talked
to my husband about it, he supported me, even though it would
mean business trips and longer hours in the office.
I think this job is in my blood. I'm absolutely addicted to the
travel environment, that's for sure. I wouldn't be able to do
anything else. I also have a wonderful staff; we're like a close
- knit family. I enjoy working in travel, especially because
I like talking to people and trying to solve their problems.
That brings such a great feeling of satisfaction.
Sabina Sharifova was interviewed
by AI Publisher Pirouz Khanlou and AI Baku Manager Arzu Aghayeva.
To read a previous article about Sharifova, see "Youth
at Work: Sabina Sharifova, British Airways," AI 7.1
Back to Index
AI 10.4 (Winter 2002)
| Search | Magazine
| AI Store | Contact us
Other Web sites
created by Azerbaijan International
AZgallery.org | AZERI.org | HAJIBEYOV.com