YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s national airline has postponed the long-awaited launch of direct flights to the United States, expected late last year, for reasons that are not yet clear. The Armavia private carrier and the Armenian government blame one another for the delay.
A direct flight service between the two countries was made possible by a U.S.-Armenian “open skies” agreement that was signed in November 2008 and went into effect last June. The agreement is equally applicable to Armenian and U.S. airlines.
The Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department said in June that Armavia will soon apply to the U.S. Department of Transportation for a license to fly to New York and Los Angeles. The head of the department, Artyom Movsisian, was confident that the company will get the green light by the end of 2009, after a planned visit to Yerevan by a team of inspectors from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
They were due to look into Armenian aviation facilities, safety rules and practices, and assess their conformity with international standards. The inspection has still not taken place, however. Neither the Civil Aviation Department, nor Armavia gave a clear explanation for that when contacted by RFE/RL’s Armenian service this week.
“The state’s involvement in this matter has come to an end,” said Nelly Charchinian, a spokeswoman for the civil aviation authority. “The state has nothing to do anymore.”
“It is Armavia’s responsibility to deal with the remaining issues,” she added. “It has to file an application to U.S. aviation authorities and then organize flights.”
But Armavia spokeswoman Nana Avetisova countered that the airline can not do that before an FAA assessment. “We planned to start flights in the spring of 2010,” she said. “In essence, Armavia is ready to start flights to Los Angeles and New York. However, the issue is related to the Civil Aviation Department and the [Yerevan] airport because the U.S. side was supposed to give clearance to the flights only after its inspections aimed at ascertaining whether the airport is prepared for the service.”
Avetisova also confirmed that Armavia has yet to acquire long-haul passenger jets used in Transatlantic flights. “Our management keeps saying that we will definitely acquire a plane for Transatlantic flights this year,” she said. “But that probably depends on the [U.S.] flight permissions.”
The Armavia fleet currently consists of eight mostly Western-made aircraft flying to some 30 destinations in Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. One of them, an Airbus A320 jet, was purchased and went into service last week.
“We plan to acquire two more airplanes by the end of this year,” the airline’s director general, Norayr Belluyan, told journalists on May 7. He did not specify their type.
The planned Transatlantic flights will allow thousands of Armenians traveling to and from the United States each year to avoid lengthy layovers at European airports. They account for a large part of passengers taking daily flights between Yerevan and major European cities.