Taron-Avia has finally received a certificate to fly over the skies of Armenia.
This will mark the first time that Armenia will have a carrier since Air Armenia was pushed out of the Armenian market, not without any external interference, in October 2014.
Taron-Avia got the go-ahead on May 10 during a council meeting held by Armenia’s Ministry of the Economy reviewing the tenders it had received by companies vying for the chance to conduct regular air service. The certificate was issued on May 16.
The airline plans to fly Boeing 737-500 type aircraft in six directions.
In February 2015, Taron-Avia owner and general director Garnik Papikyan (a native of Gyumri and a former military pilot) filed a petition to fly with Armenia’s General Department of Civil Aviation (GDCA). In the past, the GDCA was responsible for issuing carrier permits.
Papikyan presented a list of 36 regular and 20 charter destinations that he wanted to service from Yerevan’s Zvartnots Airport. The flights were to commence in the spring of 2015, but the GDCA found the documentation was lacking.
In April, a new permit process was launched in which the economy ministry was involved. Accordingly, the filer had to present a 100,000 Euro bank guarantee for each route. Papikyan opposed this requirement. In July 2015, Papikyan again filed a permit application. The economy ministry again declared that the paperwork was incomplete.
This was followed by another change to the law. After Armenia signed on to the Open Skies policy, the country’s Law on Aviation was greatly modified. After the law went into effect on September 25, 2015, the economy ministry would be issuing permits for carriers wishing to make regular flights. Those interested would file their applications to the ministry who would pass it to the above-mentioned council for review. If the review is favorable, the economy minister would then issue an order for a certificate to be granted to the company.
The new process had done away with the 100,000 Euro guarantee. Instead, the application filer would have to prove financial competency.
Readers will be reminded of an incident that took place on August 15, 2015 between Armenia Football Federation President Rouben Hayrapetyan and Arsen Avetisyan, one of the owners of Air Armenia. The encounter landed Avetisyan in the hospital.
At the time, the local press wrote that at issue was a debt owed by Air Armenia to Papikyan’s Ala International. The debt resulted from the leasing of a plane.
On November 4, an Ala International plane crashed near Juba, the capital of South Sudan. 41 people were killed. While Taron-Avia had nothing to do with the accident, the reputation of Garnik Papikyan suffered nonetheless.
Getting back to Taron-Avia, we should note that after trying several times to fly over the skies of Armenia, the company owner leased one of his three Boeing 737-500 craft to Badr Airlines in Sudan in August 2015. This was the EK-73775 plane. The EK-73772 soon followed. Both craft are owned by Ala International and Taron-Avia is the operator. The third craft (EK-73797) was being flown in the Congo.
The first two are currently being flown between Sudanese capital of Khartoum and the town of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
Of note is that their crews are from Armenia. This is significant for Armenia’s aviation given that many professional crews are no longer in Armenia.
We should also stress that Taron-Avia is currently the only Armenian company operating passenger flights. All the others flying abroad are cargo carriers.
The other company that has been issued a certificate to operate regular passenger flights in Armenia is Aviacompany Armenia Ltd. For the time being, it seems content to operate joint flights with Georgian Airways on a codeshare basis. This, despite the fact that on April 11, 2016, it was given the right to operate 17 regular international routes.