YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The government and an Argentinian billionaire of Armenian origin–Eduardo Eurnekian–finalized on Saturday an agreement that will place Armenia’s main airport under his control for the next 50 years. Eurnekian’s Aeropuertos Argentina group will be granted management rights to Zvartnots International Airport in a deal which officials hope will bring it into conformity with international standards. The Argentinian tycoon pledged to invest $50 million for that purpose. The money will be spent on construction of new airport facilities–upgrading of existing ones and re-training of personnel. It will also be used for boosting safety standards at Zvartnots–including the expansion of its runway.
The chief of Armenia’s civil aviation authority–Hovannes Yeritsian–told reporters after signing a "memorandum of mutual understanding" with the Argentinian company that the investmen’s are vital for the aviation sector. He said that adequate airport infrastructure and services will benefit the tourism sector by helping the country attract more visitors.
Zvartnots–which was built in 1981–will remain state-owned despite being run by a foreign company. It is expected that a final agreement on the change of management will be signed during President Robert Kocharian’s visit to Argentina due later this year or early next year.
Kocharian welcomed the planned deal on Saturday. "The state is not the most efficient owner," he told Eurnekian at his official residence. "The executive authority should not run a business–it should create normal conditions for economic activity."
With Aeropuertos Argentina owning and operating 33 airports across South America–Eurnekian is thought to be one of the wealthiest ethnic Armenia’s in the world. A member of the Board of Trustees of the All-Armenian Fund Hayastan–he has donated over $1 million to the charity.
Speaking to journalists–Eurnekian indicated that he is unlikely to take part in the planned privatization of the state-run Armenian Airlines. The government so far has set no dates for the start of what is likely to be an international tender for the troubled national carrier.