The Armenian National Interests Fund (ANIF) and UAE-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia this week announced plans to launch a new Armenian national airline. In an agreement signed on July 14, a new independent joint venture company will operate services from a base at Zvartnots International Airport in the Armenian capital Yerevan.
“The new national airline will serve the strategic vision of Armenia’s fast-growing travel and tourism sector as well as contribute to the country’s economic growth, while providing Armenians with reliable and value-for-money air travel,” the partners said in a joint statement to media.
According to the airport's website, existing airlines in the country include Aircompany Armenia, which operates to international destinations such as Moscow, Tbilisi, Voronezh, and Hurghada, and Armenia Airways, offering flights to Tehran and Tabriz in Iran. However, it is unclear whether these carriers can cater to existing demand. Zvartnots International saw around three million total passengers in 2019.
Direct flights to Yerevan from major cities in the Levant region, such as Beirut, Cairo, or Tel Aviv, have been hard to come by, with lengthy detours via Dubai, Doha, Kyiv, or even Frankfurt and Vienna often required. These trips can take anything between 7 and 20 hours or longer.
Lebanese flag carrier Middle East Airlines operates a direct service to Yerevan from Beirut taking around two hours, while nonstop flights from Cairo appear to be scarce, if not unavailable.
The Armenian travel and tourism sector comprised 11.8 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019 and accounted for 12.5 percent of total employment. Armenia’s largely-prosperous diaspora fanned out in the Levant and the wider Middle East in the past century, following the genocide of 1915-17, with a notable concentration now clustered around Los Angeles.
“We are excited to launch a new national low-cost carrier for Armenia that will contribute significant value to the economy and energize our travel and tourism sector,” David Papazian, ANIF’s CEO, said. “This builds on our commitment to partner with top global entities on transformational projects that catalyze our crucial economic sectors. Air Arabia has a well-established track record in launching and operating successful LCCs, and its know-how will be a differentiating strength of the new airline.”
ANIF’s website lists key investment sectors as high technology, agriculture, tourism, energy, and industry. The International Monetary Fund forecasts Armenia’s 2.97 million population will see a GDP of $12.25 billion and GDP per capita of $4,125 in 2021. “We see tremendous potential for Armenia in building its airline sector, which will add sustained value to the economy through job creation and the development of travel and tourism sector,” Adel Al Ali, Air Arabia Group CEO, said.
Armenians have been given until August 14 to submit ideas for the new airline’s name, before a final selection is made by the new company’s board of directors. Work to secure the airline’s air operator certificate will commence shortly, and further details about launch date, fleet, and destination network will be announced in due course, the joint venture said.
“Having a strong national low-cost airline is essential for the development of Armenia’s air transport sector, especially as a tool to recover faster from the COVID-19 crisis,” commented Tatevik Revazian, Chair of the Civil Aviation Committee of Armenia. “We are confident that the expertise Air Arabia brings to the JV will support the seamless launch and growth of the carrier. We look forward to the success of Armenia’s new national airline.”