By Heghine Buniatian
Armenia’s air communication with the rest of the world has been complicated for the past three months by mysterious shortages of fuel which aviators blame on its sole government-connected supplier.
The grave lack of aviation kerosene at Yerevan’s Zvartnots international airports is forcing domestic and foreign airlines to make refueling stopovers or carry additional fuel on their flights to the Armenian capital. The precise cause of the shortages is still now known.
“The airport itself doesn’t import fuel,” a Zvartnots spokesman, Gevorg Abrahamian, told RFE/RL over the weekend. “There is a supplier who is supposed to meet our needs. The fuel has been hard to come by or not available at all since August. Our demand is simply not being met.”
According to Abrahamian, each plane taking off from Zvartnots is now given one metric ton of fuel, instead of the required 13-14 tons. The airport has already run out of its fuel reserves, the official said.
Zvartnots’s exclusive kerosene supplier is the Mika Limited company that specializes in fuel imports and has a de facto monopoly on trade in aviation kerosene. Mika officials have declined to comment on the situation despite repeated inquiries from RFE/RL. One of them said they can not comment because the company’s owner and chief executive, Mikhail Baghdasarov, is “too busy.” A Russian citizen, Baghdasarov is believed to be close to Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
The airlines flying to and from Yerevan, meanwhile, are finding different ways of coping with the shortages. Russia’s Aeroflot now operates Moscow-Yerevan flights with smaller and more economical aircraft. “We have been forced to carry fewer people and less baggage and load more fuel on our way from Moscow,” said its representative in Yerevan, Gamarnik Ghahramanian. “It’s hard to operate like this.”
Armenia’s flagship carrier, Armavia, has dealt with the problem by having its planes land in the southern Russian city of Sochi for refueling. Passengers complain that they now need at least fours to reach Moscow instead of the normal two and a half hours. The delays could be even longer. On October 31, for example, an Armavia passenger jet bound for Moscow was forced to return to Yerevan after failing to refuel at Sochi airport.
Officials at the Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department say Mika Limited has pledged to remedy the situation “in the next few days.” However, the company has already given such promises before.