By Karine Kalantarian
A recently created private Armenian airline put on display Monday its first leased commercial plane, which its owners said will enable them to establish a regular flight service between Yerevan and major European cities. The shareholders of Armenia International Airlines (AIA) said they will aim to occupy the lost market share of Armenian Airlines, the ailing state-run carrier.
Armenian Airlines has been teetering on the verge of bankruptcy since the loss of its flagship Airbus A310 passenger jet in January which left it without modern aircraft meeting European safety and noise regulations. Only one of its Soviet-made planes is temporarily allowed to land in Frankfurt and Paris airports. Officials say it will soon be barred from flying to Western Europe.
AIA owners, among them two local tycoons producing beer and wine, hope to fill the market gap with their A320 liner that arrived at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport and was shown off to civil aviation officials and journalists on Monday. “We will start from [flights to] Dubai and then expand to Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and probably elsewhere,” one of the company’s three main shareholders, Hrair Hakobian, told RFE/RL.
Hakobian said AIA plans to lease a second European-made plane next spring and another one early in the summer. “And if all goes according to plan, we will further increase our fleet of aircraft,” he said, adding that his company is also eyeing flights to Russia and other former Soviet states.
AIA is the second privately owned Armenian airline. The first one, called Armavia, carries out several flights a week to Turkey and the former Soviet Union. It too reportedly envisages expansion.
Meanwhile, government officials announced that they have finally decided against seeking bankruptcy proceedings against Armenian Airlines despites its mounting debts and falling revenues. The head of the government’s civil aviation department, Samvel Markarian, claimed that the country’s main carrier still “has the potential” to stay afloat.
Other sources close to the aviation department had told RFE/RL a month ago that the government will declare it bankrupt because of the failure of long-running attempts to improve its notoriously inefficient and corrupt management. Armenian Airlines has run up huge debts in recent years and is a huge drain on scarce state resources. Estimates of its total amount range from $19 million to $24 million.
“Armenian Airlines will not file for bankruptcy and must continue its existence and development,” insisted its new chief executive, Arsen Avetisian. But he would not say how the airline plans to repay its debts.