Council of Europe Concerned for Press in Azerbaijan

YEREVAN (RFE/RL and Armenpress)–An Argentine billionaire of Armenian origin–Eduardo Eurnekian–signed on Monday an agreement with the Armenian government giving him control of Yerevan’s Zvartnots international airport for the next 50 years.

Eurnekian’s Aerpouertos Argentina group–which runs 33 airports across South America–will invest at least $50 million to bring the Soviet-era facility into conformity international standards. The company will build a new modern airport terminal within the next three years that will handle the bulk of flights to and from Armenia.

Under the terms of the concession agreement signed by Eurnekian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian–Aerpouertos Argentina will also expand Zvartnots’s runway and upgrade other airport facilities.

"Our goal is not only to construct a good airport but also ensure high quality services there," Eurnekian said at the signing ceremony in President Robert Kocharian’s official residence.

"We are interested in having an airport that meets all international standards," Kocharian said.

According to Justice Minister David Harutiunian–Argentine investmen’s in Zvartnots could reach $80 million in the next ten to fifteen years. Its existing main terminal was built in 1981 and handled more than 550,000 passengers last year. The new operator wants to increase the number by Argentine Tycoon Seals Armenia Airport Deal five percent each year.

Zvartnots will technically remain state-owned despite being run by a foreign company. Tentative agreement on the transfer of its management rights to the Argentine company was reached in late September. Eurnekian decided to go ahead with the deal despite a severe economic crisis in Argentina and a slump in the global aviation industry since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Armenian officials say the long-term concession will make the entire aviation sector more efficient. They also hope that adequate airport infrastructure and services will make the country more attractive to foreign investors and tourists.

President Kocharian also said that he was happy that one of the biggest deal with the government was concluded with a Diaspora Armenian businessman.

Eurnekian for his part was quoted as saying that the first impressions about the country are formed by airports. "Our goal is not to build a good airport–but also to secure the highest level of service," he said.

Argentina’s Ambassador to Armenia Juan Sanches Arnaun–who was also present at the meeting–hopes that this deal would be a strong incentive to further develop Armenian-Argentinean cooperation.

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