By Anna Saghabalian
Heavy fog hanging over Yerevan and the adjacent Ararat Valley has all but disrupted Armenia’s air communication with the outside world, with passenger jets unable to land and take off for several days running.
The poor visibility led to the cancellation of at least nine weekend flights from Yerevan, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded at the Zvartnots international airport. The Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department said on Monday that it ordered the delays because of a high risk of plane crashes.
But passengers, especially those traveling to Russia, seemed increasingly angry about the situation and the uncertainty surrounding it. Many have spent days waiting for their flights at Zvartnots.
“I’ve been waiting for my flight for almost 24 hours and don’t even hope to fly out today,” said one young man bound for Moscow.
“I’m here for a second day,” said an angry woman from the central Russian city of Perm. “We don’t get any information from airline representatives or airport administration.”
According to the Itar-Tass news agency, as many as 700 people heading for Yerevan were stranded at Moscow airports on Monday. The daily flight service between the two capitals is operated by Russia’s Aeroflot and Armenia’s Armavia flagship carrier. The latter grounded its planes in Russia for several days before having them land in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri.
Austrian Airlines, one of the Western carriers flying to Yerevan, found a similar solution, airlifting passengers in Tbilisi and then ferrying them on to the Armenian capital by bus on Monday. RFE/RL correspondent Armen Zakarian was among the passengers who spent almost three days at Vienna airport. Their plane twice approached Yerevan before being forced to turn back to the Austrian capital.
Zakarian said Austrian Airlines told the passengers that the main reason for the flight disruption is Armenia’s obsolete air navigation system. “They said the local navigation systems do not work beyond a 700-meter radius,” he said. A similar explanation has reportedly been given by Aeroflot.
The Armenian air navigation and traffic control service, according to its director Eduard Musoyan, is currently installing new equipment which will be operational within ten days. But Musoyan claimed that even it will not allow aviation authorities to unblock flights if the fog remains as thick as it has been in recent days. Local meteorologists do not expect the unfavorable weather conditions to change in the coming days.