By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s largest airline, Armavia, insisted on Monday that it has avoided financial ruin despite losing a large part of its fleet this month and causing widespread safety fears among local air travelers.
The private carrier has struggled to remain afloat since one of its Airbus A320 passengers crashed off the Russian Black Sea coast in still mysterious circumstances on May 3, killing all 113 people on board. It was dealt another severe blow only two days later when another A320 belonging to Armavia burned down in a massive fire at a maintenance hangar of Brussels airport.
The two accidents left the company with only five aircraft, including three other Airbuses, at its disposal, forcing delays and cancellations of its flights to Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. But Armavia has largely restored its flight schedule since taking delivery of a nearly new Airbus A319 airliner on May 18. It is due to lease another replacement Airbus soon.
The Armavia director general, Norayr Beloyan, described the resulting financial losses as “very big” but refused to come up with any figures, saying that the company is still calculating the damage. He also claimed that the A320 crash only briefly scared Armenians away from using Armavia’s services, denying reports about a mass return of tickets in the aftermath of the worst air disaster in the country’s history.
“In my opinion, the panic lasted for only one week or ten days,” Beloyan told RFE/RL. “But after that things returned to normal. People are not scared anymore.”
Some travel agents in Yerevan agreed with this assertion. “Some [Armavia ticket buyers] ask us jokingly, ‘Do you know if this plane is going to crash?’” said one of them. “But if flying on Armavia planes is convenient for their travel plans, they don’t care.”
However, the manager of another air ticketing office claimed the opposite, saying that the number of Armavia passengers is still far below the pre-crash levels. “Many people refuse to take Armavia flights,” she told RFE/RL. “If they have an option to fly to the same place on another airline, even if that means taking an extra connecting flight, they prefer that.”
She added that the Armavia crash also had a negative impact on overall air travel from Armenia. “The number of people buying plane tickers has fallen. People wonder what kind of aircraft flies to their desired destination and how safe it is. They even ask about the date of its production and technical condition.”
“People are scared,” agreed another travel agent.