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By Gevorg Stamboltsian
An Argentine company managing Armenia’s main international airport began on Monday the construction of a promised new terminal which is supposed to bring the facility into conformity with international standards.

Representatives of the Corporacion America operator were joined by Armenian government ministers to inaugurate the start of work on what they describe as the first stage of the reconstruction of the Zvartnots airport. According to Zvarntnots’s commercial director, Juan-Pablo Guechigian, it will cost at least $42 million.

Justice Minister David Harutiunian, who oversees the project’s implementation, said after the ceremony that the new three-story building is slated for completion by 2007. He added that its ground floor will be available for passenger use “at the end of next year” parallel to the construction of the upper floors.

The Argentine company is owned by ethnic Armenian billionaire Eduardo Eurnekian and operates 33 airports across South America. It signed a 30-year management contract with the Armenian government in December 2001 and took over Zvartnots several months later. The company claims to have already spent millions of dollars on repairing its runways. However, it has been widely criticized for a major increase in the price of various airport services and a slow change at Zvartnots’s current main terminal built in 1980.

Officials in Yerevan said earlier that the reconstruction will enable Zvartnots to handle at least 1.2 million passengers a year. Up to 800,000 people presently arrive at and depart from the airport each year. Eurnekian is said to intend to turn the airport into a major transit hub for long-haul flights between Europe and Asia.
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