The European Union has banned all seven airlines registered in Armenia from carrying out regular flights to EU member states, saying that they do not meet international safety standards.
The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, announced on Tuesday that it decided to blacklist them after assessing the country’s “safety oversight capabilities.” In a statement, it said the decision followed hearings of representatives of the Armenian government and six Armenian carriers.
“The decision to include the Armenian carriers on the EU Air Safety List has been made based on the unanimous opinion delivered by the Air Safety Committee,” the statement quoted EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean as saying. “The Commission, with the assistance of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, stands ready to cooperate and invest in Armenia to improve its aviation safety.”
The Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Committee downplayed the ban, arguing that only one local airline, Aircompany Armenia, flies to Europe and the French city of Lyon in particular.
“It’s not that Armenian airlines had occupied the European [aviation] market and their passengers will acutely feel [the impact of the ban,]” a senior committee official, Stepan Payaslian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Wednesday.
Aircompany Armenia refused to comment on the EU sanction. “We will officially address this topic later on, after the end of the [coronavirus-related] state of emergency in the country,” said its deputy executive director, Gevorg Khachatrian.
The company was allowed to carry out a Yerevan-Lyon charter flight on Tuesday in order to evacuate Armenian citizens stranded in Europe because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The EU’s Aviation Safety Agency is understood to have recommended the ban last November because of what it views as the Armenian Civil Aviation Committee’s failure to ensure adequate oversight and licensing of the domestic airlines.
The move sparked bitter recriminations between the Armenian government and its political opponents. The latter seized upon it to accuse the government of incompetence and mismanagement.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian dismissed the accusations and put the blame on the country’s former leadership, saying that it had for years failed to properly regulate the aviation sector. Still, Pashinian sacked in January one of his advisers who dealt with the sector.
Pashinian and the head of the Civil Aviation Committee, Tatevik Revazian, discussed the European Commission’s decision during a video conference held on Wednesday. According to a government statement, Revazian assured him that her agency is taking serious measures to address the EU concerns about flight safety. She also said that the EU will not lift the ban before November 2022.