By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s struggling state-run carrier refuted on Thursday reports that it has been banned from entering Russia’s airspace for failure to repay its debts to Russian air navigation services.
The official Itar-Tass news agency quoted an unnamed spokesman for the Russian civil aviation authority as saying earlier in the day that Armenian Airlines planes will not be allowed to fly to Russia starting from January 9. The official said the company owes the Rosaeronavigatsia air traffic agency $3 million and does not intend to pay up.
The report took Armenian Airlines officials by surprise. “I am aware of that information, and it does not correspond to reality,” its executive director, Arsen Avetisian, told RFE/RL. He said that under a detailed timetable agreed with the Russians, Armenian Airlines will repay the debt within a year.
The Armenian side puts its total amount at only $2 million.
Avetisian blamed the Itar-Tass report on unspecified competitors keen to squeeze Armenian Airlines out of the Russian market, which accounts for the bulk of its revenues. The debt-ridden company maintains regular flight services between Yerevan and Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and several other Russian cities. It increasingly faces competition from two recently formed private Armenian carriers.
Armenian Airlines, whose overall debt totals about $20 million, has stood on the brink of bankruptcy for much of this year. After dragging its feet for several years, the Armenian government now appears ready to privatize it. Sources say among private investors showing interest in the company is Swiss watchmaker Franck Muller.