By Atom Markarian
The Armenian government gave on Thursday its go-ahead to the implementation of a $59 million plan to rebuild Armenia’s main international airport which was drawn up by its current Argentine operator.
Officials said the Corporacion America group of Eduardo Eurnekian, an Argentine billionaire of Armenian descent, will build two new flight terminals and refurbish other facilities at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport in the next eight years. One of the terminals is to be built within a year.
Eurnekian’s company, which operates 33 airports across South America, signed a 30-year management contract with the Armenian government in December 2001 and took over Zvartnots last year. Although it has already partly repaired the airport’s runway, there has been little visible change at its current Soviet-era terminal which still does not meet international standards.
According to Vahe Yaghubian, a lawyer representing the government at Zvartnots, the building will stop being used for servicing international flights after the construction of the new terminal. “The new terminal will be completed within a year,” he told reporters.
Yaghubian said the successful implementation of Corporacion America’s 8-year “master plan” will give Zvartnots the capacity to process at least 1.2 million passengers a year. Up to 800,000 arrive at and depart from the airport at present.
Yaghubian said the increase in passenger numbers is to be achieved through Zvarnots’s transformation into a major transit hub for long-haul flights between Europe and Asia. The Argentine tycoon believes that its geographical location bodes well for that, he added.
In addition to securing the long-term management of Zvartnots, Eurnekian’s group was granted last year the right to create a tax-free economic zone inside the airport. Under a special law passed by the Armenian parliament in May 2002, the one square-kilometer area can accommodate businesses exempt from profit tax and other duties. The parliament also amended Armenia’s gambling legislation to allow the foreign investor to open casinos inside the tax haven.
The extraordinary measures were approved despite strong objections voiced by opposition lawmakers.