The liberalization three years ago of Armenia’s civil aviation sector has proved to be a success, a senior Armenian government official insisted on Tuesday, dismissing complaints by a local airline struggling to compete with Russian carriers.
Sergey Avetisian, who heads the government’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, said the number of passengers processed by Yerevan’s Zvartnots international airport is expected to pass the 2 million mark this year.
“This is a record-high indicator which was last registered in 1990,” Avetisian told a news conference.
The government decided to switch to the so-called “open skies” policy in October 2013 following the bankruptcy of the Armavia national airline. The latter had enjoyed exclusive rights to fly to Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East for almost ten years.
The liberalization, strongly backed by Western donors, meant that local and foreign carriers meeting safety standards can carry out flights to and from Armenia without any restrictions. Some of them have entered the Armenian aviation market while others expanded existing flight services since then.
And a new local airline managed and partly owned by a Georgian businessman, Tamaz Gaiashvili, launched its operations early this year, mainly flying to Russia and Ukraine.
Gaiashvili complained last month that the airline called Armenia is struggling to remain afloat because of what he called “criminal” practices of its Russian and Ukrainian competitors. He said that they pay much less than his company does for fuel and ground services in Moscow and Kiev.
“We don’t see anything criminal. What we see is competition, fierce competition,” insisted Avetisian.
“Under the open skies policy, competition was always going to be tough for local carriers, and this is natural,” he said. “Nobody promised them an easy life.”
Russian airlines currently carry out more than a dozen flights a day between Moscow and Yerevan.
Air Armenia, another local airline that attempted to partly replace Armavia, suspended its flights in late 2014 amid a financial dispute with Russia’s national air navigation service. It accused the Rosaeronavigatsia agency of scaring away its customers with false statements about its outstanding debts.