By Armen Zakarian
Armenia’s flagship airline has cancelled weekend flight services between Yerevan and three major European cities, despite growing demand in air travel to and from the country.
Armavia, the Russian-owned private carrier, stopped flying to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris on Saturdays and Sundays starting from this month, immediately after obtaining exclusive rights to the flights from the Armenian government. The company’s chief executive, Aleksei Nikitin, cited on Friday poor ticket sales to justify the move criticized by the government’s Civil Aviation Department.
The head of the department, Artyom Movsisian, told RFE/RL that he has protested to the Armavia management because he thinks that the flight cancellation is complicating Armenia’s communication with the outside world and damaging its nascent tourism industry. Movsisian said he is not satisfied with Armavia’s assurances that the flights will be restored in late March.
According to official figures, the number of people traveling to and from Armenia by air continued to grow last year, exceeding one million. “We had transported more than one million passengers only in 1993,” Movsisian said.
The past year saw a further sizable rise in the number of foreigners, most of them Diaspora Armenians, visiting the country. It was particularly visible during summer months when booking a flight to Western Europe and on to the United States became a problem.
The increased demand led Austrian Airlines, the third largest carrier of passengers to and from Armenia, to increase the frequency of its regular Vienna-Yerevan flights. They are presently carried out five days a week.
Meanwhile, Armavia’s sole Western European destination now is Paris. The carrier, which is owned by Russia’s second-biggest Sibir airline, flies there twice a week on weekdays.
The cancelled flights used to be operated by Armenian International Airways, a small private company now facing uncertain future. The flight rights expired last month and were transferred to Armavia which thus effectively became the sole Armenian-based airline.