A recent liberalization of the domestic civil aviation sector is already translating into more and cheaper flights carried out to and from Armenia, a senior government official said on Tuesday.
Artyom Movsesian, the head of the Armenian civil aviation authority, argued that five more European, Russian and Middle Eastern airlines have started flying to the country since the government opted for a so-called “open skies” policy in October. Several other carries are now considering following suit, he said.
The policy change was recommended by the U.S. consulting firm McKinsey and Company. The government contracted McKinsey in July to look into the sector and propose ways of developing it following the bankruptcy of the Armavia national airline.
Armavia enjoyed exclusive rights to carry out flights to Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East for almost ten years. Foreign airlines needed its permission to launch flight services to and from Armenia. Local and foreign carriers meeting safety standards are now supposed to be allowed to carry out flights without any restrictions.
Economy Minister Vahram Avanesian predicted in October that ticket prices will drop by 10 percent and air traffic will increase by at least 20 percent in the coming months. According to Movsesian, the cost of air travel to popular destinations such as Moscow and Dubai has already fallen because of increased competition.
“The government will not restrict the number of flights that can be carried out by airlines each week,” Movsesian insisted at a news conference. “It will not regulate the number of companies allowed to fly to and from Armenia.”
Only one new local airline has entered the aviation market so far. The presently small company, Air Armenia, is slowly expanding its regular flight services. Air Armenia is owned by a brother of a senior pro-government lawmaker, a fact raising fears of covert government support for its operations.
Movsesian dismissed such speculation, saying that the government would only welcome the emergence of more Armenian carriers. “I believe that if a second or even third Armenian carrier emerges that will be good,” he said.
U.S. officials have stressed the importance of the sector’s liberalization for Armenia. U.S. Ambassador John Heffern met with Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian in November to “congratulate” him on the policy change.