Heavy Fog Blocks Armenian Air Traffic

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Heavy fog hanging over Yerevan and the adjacent Ararat Valley has grounded Armenian air traffic–with passenger jets unable to land and take off for several days running.

Poor visibility led to the cancellation of at least nine weekend flights from Yerevan–leaving hundreds of passengers stranded at Zvartnots international airport. The Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department said Monday that it ordered the delays to prevent plane crashes.

But passengers–especially those traveling to Russia–seemed increasingly angry about the situation and the uncertainty surrounding it. Many have spent days waiting for their flights at Zvartnots.

"I’ve been waiting for my flight for almost 24 hours and don’t even hope to fly out today," said one young man bound for Moscow.

"I’m here for a second day," said an angry woman from the central Russian city of Perm. "We don’t get any information from airline representatives or airport administration."

According to the Itar-Tass news agency–as many as 700 people heading for Yerevan were stranded at Moscow airports on Monday. The daily flight service between the two capitals is operated by Russia’s Aeroflot and Armenia’s Armavia flagship carrier. The latter grounded its planes in Russia for several days before having them land in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri.

Austrian Airlines–one of the Western carriers flying to Yerevan–also found a solution–airlifting passengers in Tbilisi and then ferrying them on to the Armenian capital by bus on Monday. Some passengers spent almost three days waiting at Vienna’s airport. One plane approached Yerevan twice before being forced to turn back to the Austrian capital.

Austrian Airlines told the passengers that the main reason for the flight disruption is Armenia’s outdated air navigation system. Airline officials were quoted as saying that "local navigation systems do not work beyond a 700-meter radius." A similar explanation has reportedly been given by Aeroflot.

Gayane Davtian–a spokeswoman for the government-affiliated department of civil aviation–said in a couple of days air traffic controllers will start using a system allowing planes to take off and land in foggy weather.

The Armenian air navigation and traffic control service–according to its director Eduard Musoyan–is currently installing the new equipment. But Musoyan claimed that even this new equipment will not allow flights in and out of Yerevan if the fog remains as thick as it has been in recent days. Local meteorologists do not expect the unfavorable weather conditions to change in the coming days.

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