Azerbaijan’s national airline AZAL said it has started again using Armenian airspace for its flights from Baku to Nakhichevan, an Azerbaijani exclave separated from the rest of the country by Armenia and Iran. It said this will shorten travel time between the two cities and thereby cut the cost of those flights.
“This step demonstrates Azerbaijan’s resolute readiness to unblock regional transport links, which corresponds to the interests of all neighboring countries,” the state-run carrier said in a statement.
The statement came the day after Iran banned, according to Azerbaijani media reports, Azerbaijani military planes from flying over the Islamic Republic en route to Nakhichevan. Tensions between Tehran and Baku have risen dramatically since Azerbaijani authorities began on September 12 demanding hefty fees from Iranian vehicles using the main Armenia-Iran highway.
Armenia’s Civil Aviation Committee confirmed the AZAL announcement. It said that despite the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict Armenia and Azerbaijan had never formally closed their airspaces for each other’s civilian flights.
A statement by the government agency said the Azerbaijani side stopped using Armenia’s airspace for Baku-Nakhichevan flights in November 2014 “at its own initiative.” By contrast, airlines have since continued to carry out flights to and from Yerevan over Azerbaijan, added the statement.
An Armenian pro-government lawmaker, Hayk Sargsian, claimed, however, that Armenia had similarly “refused to carry out flights through Azerbaijan’s airspace.” “By the same token, we can now start using their airspace,” he said.
A Russian-brokered agreement that stopped last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh commits Armenia and Azerbaijan to opening transport links between the two South Caucasus states. The Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijani governments set up a joint task force for that purpose in January.
It emerged recently that Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey banned Armenian aircraft from its airspace on September 9, 2020, less than three weeks before the outbreak of the Karabakh war. The Civil Aviation Committee confirmed that Yerevan never retaliated by imposing a similar ban on Turkish carriers.