By Hovannes Shoghikian
Pilots representing hundreds of former Armenian Airlines staff accused the government on Thursday of deliberately delaying payment of 190 million drams ($500,000) in back wages owed to them by the now defunct state-owned carrier.
The once profitable company was declared bankrupt in 2002 after years of mismanagement, losing over one thousand people, among them experienced pilots, their jobs. More than a third of them have still not be paid for their work. Some of them are owed as much as 4 million drams ($10,000).
Representatives of former Armenian Airliners employees said the government has repeatedly broken its pledges to eliminate the wage arrears despite having raised more than 200 million drams from the partial sale of the liquidated company’s planes and other assets. One of them, retired pilot Eduard Revazian, attacked the chief of the government’s Civil Aviation Department. “It’s more than a year since he pledged to pay our wages after a meeting with the president [of the republic],” Revazian said.
A spokeswoman for the department, Gayane Davtian, insisted that under Armenian law the staff of a bankrupt company can be paid only after a complete sell-off of its property. “Because the Armenian Airlines assets have not been fully auctioned off yet, they can not be paid for the time being,” she told RFE/RL. “The law provides for no other payout options.”
But according to another unemployed pilot, Vladimir Poghosian, there are other options. “We suggest that the government repay its own debts and pay the aviators’ salaries,” Poghosian said. “They could also raise the sum from their own pockets by selling their villas,” he added, referring to senior aviation officials.
Poghosian also suggested that the government tap proceeds from the 2003 sale of most of Armenian Airlines’s flight rights to Armavia, a private carrier owned by a government-connected businessman. He said Armavia paid $1 million to carry out those flights until 2013.