By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s national airline resumed on Thursday flights to its main European destinations after securing a temporary substitute for its sole plane allowed to land in Western Europe.
The Russian-made Tupolev-154M flew to Paris exactly ten days after an engine malfunction forced the flagship Airbus A310 of Armenian Airlines, also bound for the French capital, to return to Zvartnots airport 20 minutes after its takeoff.
The A310, on lease to the state-run carrier, is the only Armenian Airlines plane that meets the European Union’s safety and noise regulations. It carried out six flights a week to Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. All of them were cancelled after the incident.
Their resumption became possible after the arrival earlier this week of the Russian passenger jet leased from a Russian aviation company pending the repair of one of the Airbus’s two engine. The Tupolev-154M was modified to meet the European standards.
A senior Armenian civil aviation official, Aram Safarian, told RFE/RL that the engine repair will cost up to $1 million and has to be financed by the Armenian side under the lease agreement signed with a French company in 1998. Safarian said his agency is still negotiating terms of returning the plane to service.
“We may lease another Russian plane,” he said. “In the meantime, the situation with the engine repair should clear up in the coming days.”
Meanwhile, the controversial head of the civil aviation authority, Hovannes Yeritsian, reiterated on Thursday that he plans to lease two more Airbus A310s this year on much more favorable terms. But it remained unclear when the new aircraft will join the aging fleet of Armenian Airlines.
Yeritsian lashed out at the Armenian press for its harsh criticism of his activities. Yeritsian, accused of corruption and mismanagement by newspapers with differing political orientations, threatened to sue those publications and vigorously defended his track record.
He also voiced his opposition to the idea of privatizing the loss-making Armenian Airlines backed by Western donors.
The company is formally on the list of state-run enterprises which the Armenian government plans to privatize within the next two years. But the government has still to give its final go-ahead to the sell-off.