Air Armenia Hopes to Fill Armavia Void

Former cargo operator, Air Armenia, plans to introduce two Airbus A320s into its fleet to launch passenger flights within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and fill part of the void left by the collapse of the country’s national carrier Armavia earlier this year. According to local sources, the carrier intends to begin passenger flights from the middle of August, ten years after it inaugurated freight services.

In late June the Armenian Civil Aviation Administration is understood to have awarded Air Armenia traffic licences to serve six markets from Zvartnots International Airport in the country’s capital city Yerevan. These have been provided on a temporary measure and subject to certain performance requirements could see Air Armenia eventually given the status of flag carrier of the country and awarded further traffic rights.

The State is seeking to redistribute the traffic rights of Armavia to other carriers but during a recent tender none of Armenia’s registered air carriers made an application for the licences. It is believed that Air Armenia’s temporary award of these six routes could lead to the company bidding for rights once the licences are again offered for distribution later this quarter. US consultancy, McKinsey & Company is assisting the Government with the planned “gradual liberalisation” of Armenia’s aviation sector.

The planned passenger expansion represents a marked change in focus for Air Armenia. The carrier was established in early 2003 and launched cargo service on March 18 the same year. It had plied its trade mainly in the CIS market but also developed a mini-hub at Frankfurt-Hahn to provide services into the wider European market. It currently operates a mixed fleet of Antonov An-12 and An-32 freighters.

Although details of the proposed A320 deal remain unclear, it is understood that the first aircraft will be delivered within the next two weeks and will enable the carrier to launch its first passenger operation on the Yerevan – Moscow route from August 18, 2013. The second aircraft is due to arrive in September and will enable the additional Russian markets of Krasnador, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Sochi and St Petersburg to be served.

Armavia had dominated the Armenian passenger market after it took over from Armenian Airlines as the country’s prominent carrier. The private carrier was shut-down in April 2013 after running up massive debts to airports, fuel suppliers and other service providers despite having enjoyed exclusive rights to international flights to and from Armenia for almost a decade. Several European, Russian and other foreign companies have already increased the frequency of their flights, while others have launched new services to Yerevan following the collapse of Armavia.

Although Air Armenia has confirmed its intention to initially launch passenger operations between Yerevan and Moscow it has not known which airport it will serve in the Russian capital. Armavia had operated a dual strategy flying to both Domodedovo and Vnukovo. The former market is currently served by S7 Airlines and Transaero Airlines, while Transaero launched flights between Moscow Vnukovo and Yerevan in June 2013 in the aftermath of Armavia’s closure. Aeroflot also has flights to and from Sheremetyevo. An estimated 60,000 bi-directional O&D passengers flew between Yerevan and the three Moscow airports in 2012.

The St Petersburg market will likely be Air Armenia’s second route. Armavia had served Russia’s second city from Yerevan since January 2005 and had a 24.3 per cent share of the market in 2012. Since its collapse connectivity has continued through Russian carrier Rossiya Airlines (formerly Pulkovo Airlines) and relative newcomer on the route, Ural Airlines, which commenced flights in April 2012. An estimated 60,000 bi-directional O&D passengers flew on the route in 2012.

The city of Krasnador is served from Yerevan by Yakutia Airlines who took over responsibility for the route in December 2012 following the collapse of Kuban Airlines, which had provided continuous operations from its home base throughout the 2000s. Armavia had served the route from July 2004 until March 2011, resuming services in November 2012 up until its closure in April 2013. Russian carrier Yamal Airlines also served the route between April 2012 and October 2012. An estimated 47,000 bi-directional O&D passengers flew on the route in 2012.

Samara’s Kurumoch International Airport is already linked to the Armenian capital by Ural Airlines. The Russian carrier entered the market in August 2009 and has been the sole provider of air services since Armavia’s closure. The former Armenian flag carrier had served the route since July 2004 initially competing with Samara Airlines, part of the ill-fated AiRUnion, up until the alliance’s collapse in September 2008. An estimated 28,000 bi-directional O&D passengers flew on the route in 2012.

The Rostov-on-Don market will see Air Armenia compete with two Russian carriers – Donavia, a regional subsidiary of Aeroflot, and UTair. Armavia again served the Russian city from July 2004 when Donavia, then known as Aeroflot-Don was already flying the route. UTair entered the market in August 2011 and currently operates a Boeing 737-500 on its flights. An estimated 82,000 bi-directional O&D passengers flew on the route in 2012.

Air Armenia will face similar competition between Yerevan and Sochi International, an airport located in Adler District of the resort city of Sochi, on the coast of the Black Sea in the Krasnodar Krai region of Russia. Donavia has served the route since November 2009 while UTair has flown between the two destinations since October 2012, although it did previously operated between Sochi and Yerevan between December 2006 and November 2008. An estimated 48,000 bi-directional O&D passengers flew on the route in 2012.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…