By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s struggling national airline will lease next month a new Western-made passenger jet to replace its flagship Airbus A310 grounded since January, officials said on Wednesday.
A spokesman for the Armenian civil aviation agency told RFE/RL that the new, more powerful commercial liner, A330, will be in service from May 26. The official, Serzh Manukian, said it will allow the state-run Armenian Airlines to continue flights to its main European destinations.
The European Union banned Soviet-made aircraft which do not meet European noise and safety standards from entering its airspace from April 1. The only Armenian Airlines plane meeting those standards has been grounded since an engine problem forced it return to Yerevan on a regular flight to Paris. The A310, on lease from a European aviation company, is unlikely to resume flights anytime soon, with the cash-strapped Armenian carrier unable to underwrite the engine repair.
Armenian Airlines has in the meantime continued its European flights with a temporary replacement, a Russian Tupolev-154M. After the latest EU directive, the company has secured a reprieve from the Paris and Frankfurt airports but has been barred from Amsterdam.
Manukian said the Armenian side has declined a Dutch offer to redirect the flight to another Dutch city, Rotterdam. He said it will instead launch a new regular flight service to Brussels after leasing the A330 from Europe’s VG Airlines. The same plane will likely fly to Paris, he added.
The dismal state of affairs in the Armenian civil aviation drew last month strong criticism from President Robert Kocharian who said that the sector stands in the way of the country’s development and needs a radical shake-up. The criticism centered Armenian Airlines, which has been operating at a loss and is widely seen as inefficient.
Officials say many of the sector’s problems will be solved with the transfer of Armenia’s main airport to private control. An Argentine company owned by a billionaire businessman of Armenian descent will formally take over Yerevan’s Zvartnots International airport on May 18. Eduardo Eurnekian’s Aerpouertos Argentina group was granted a 50-year lease on Zvartnots in December.