YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—A Russian low-cost airline affiliated with Aeroflot Group plans to start regular flights to Armenia beginning in late November, a senior aviation official in Yerevan confirmed on Thursday.
According to reports, tickets to the flights of Pobeda, a Moscow-based budget carrier, to Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri and back may be priced as little as 10,000 drams, or about $20, in one direction.
“It’s unprecedented for Armenia,” chief of Armenia’s Head Department of Civil Aviation (HDCA) Sergey Avetisian said after a government meeting. “This is the first time a low-cost airline enters Armenia’s market in the format it should be.”
In Armenia Pobeda’s flights are expected to be served by Shirak Airport, which is located near Gyumri and is the country’s second international air terminal. For years its airfield has been disused or operated at only a fraction of its capacity.
The Armenian government hopes the entry of the Russian low-cost airline will boost competition in the country’s civil aviation market as well as help further develop airport infrastructure in Gyumri.
“We have repeatedly talked about plans to develop Shirak Airport together with Armenia International Airports as an air terminal for budget flights,” said Avetisian.
All passengers leaving Armenia through the main Yerevan airport at Zvartnots currently pay a state duty in the amount of 10,000 drams (about $20). According to Avetisian, it has been agreed that passengers leaving from Gyumri will be exempted from this duty.
The official found it difficult to confirm or deny reports that Pobeda flight prices will start from $20, only saying that the prices quoted by the airline for its other similar flights in Russia are comparable to that sum. He warned consumers in Armenia, however, that low-cost airlines usually use such prices for only a segment of tickets and not all of them.
Avetisian added that negotiations are also being conducted with a number of European low-cost airlines. “The problem is that in entering the market an airline has to realize what potential demand it is going to have there. It is no secret that Russia has been Armenia’s number one market both in terms of outgoing and incoming passengers and is going to remain one for a long time,” said the HDCA chief.
Armenia enjoys a visa-free regime with Russia and tens of thousands of Armenians every year go to Moscow and other Russian cities for seasonal work. Also, an estimated 2 million ethnic Armenians live in Russia and some of them regularly visit their relatives in Armenia.
According to media reports, Pobeda is going to operate Moscow-Gyumri-Moscow flights seven times a week during afternoon hours. The budget carrier will reportedly use Boeing-737-800 aircrafts seating 180 passengers in a one-class configuration.