Armenia’s main airline has accused the Russian state air traffic control agency of causing it serious financial damage with what it considers baseless claims resulting from Western economic sanctions against Russia.
The Russian State Corporation for Organization of Air Traffic said on Thursday that it will stop on September 21 providing air navigation services to Air Armenia flights to Moscow and six other Russian cities because of the private carrier’s overdue debts worth $400,000. In a statement, the government corporation claimed that the Armenian airline has failed to “reduce the debt burden” despite having been given repeated reprieves.
Air Armenia’s chief executive, Arsen Avetisian, categorically denied these allegations on Friday. Avetisian said that his company was unable clear the debt because the navigation service’s dollar accounts are with SMP-Bank, one of the Russian banks sanctioned by the Western powers in April due to the Ukraine crisis. He said Air Armenia will repay the debt in Russian rubles and through another Russian bank by September 21.
Avetisian insisted that the Russian traffic controller was well aware of this problem, suggesting that there may have been ulterior motives behind its decision to publicize the matter. He said the Russian statement led many Air Armenia clients to return their tickets for fear of flight cancellations and thereby cause the carrier financial losses.
“If there was some [conspiracy] plan behind all this, then it has worked,” Avetisian told a news conference. “Right now even our acquaintances are handing back their tickets.”
Avetisian at the same time expressed confidence that Air Armenia will avoid the fate of Armavia, Armenia’s larger flagship carrier that went bankrupt in April 2013. The Armenian government responded to Armavia’s collapse by liberalizing the domestic civil aviation sector.
Air Armenia, which specialized in cargo shipments by air until last year, has gradually taken over some of the flights previously operated by Armavia. It currently flies to 10 destinations in Russia and Europe, including Paris and Frankfurt.