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By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s national airline, Armavia, signed on Friday a multimillion-dollar agreement to buy four newly designed Russian airplanes that have yet to be fully tested and certified by aviation authorities.

Under the agreement signed in Yerevan by Armavia and the Russian aviation group Sukhoi, the Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft will be delivered to the private carrier over the next five years. The first two deliveries are due to take place late 2008 and early 2009.

Officials present at the signing ceremony said Armavia will borrow at least $100 million from a Russian commercial bank to pay for the new passenger jets. The airline, owned by Russian-Armenian businessman Mikhail Baghdasarov, has steadily expanded its fleet of aircraft in the past few years to keep up with growing demand in air travel to and from Armenia.

Sukhoi, which is managed by another Russian citizen of Armenian descent, Mikhail Poghosian, has been better known for its military aircraft widely used by the air forces of Russia and many other states, including Armenia. The launch of the Sukhoi Superjet project in 2001 marked its entry into the civil aviation sector. The state-owned Russian firm set up a consortium with two Italian companies last June to embark on the mass manufacturing and sales of its first-ever civilian aircraft.

Norayr Beloyan, the Armavia executive director, said his company, which has until now mainly relied on European-made Airbus jets, opted for Sukhoi Superjet 100s despite the fact that have not been tested in the air yet. “We just saw that this aircraft very good,” Beloyan told RFE/RL. “Having looked at all of its parameters, we concluded that this is the kind of aircraft we need.”

Baghdasarov and Poghosian signed the purchase agreement in the presence of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin, who presided over a regular meeting of a Russian-Armenian inter-governmental commission on economic cooperation. Sarkisian hailed the deal as a further indication of growing economic ties between the two countries.
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