In a move to expand its network into post-Soviet countries, Ryanair, Europe’s largest low-cost carrier (LCC), is planning to make Armenia the 40th country in its flight matrix. From January 2020 the budget airline will start operations into the Caucasus country by launching flights to the capital-city Yerevan from Milan (Bergamo) and Rome (Ciampino). By the IATA Summer season direct services to Yerevan from Berlin (Schönefeld) and to Gyumri from Memmingen are also to be started. The airline plans to transport up to 130,000 passengers to/from Armenian airports in 2020. Previously it had been expected that the Irish LCC would launch flights to Armenia simultaneously with Hungary’s Wizz Air, which was also interested in expanding into the Caucasus territory.
According to Nikol Pashinyan, the country’s prime minister, his government is ready to support more airlines that wish to launch flights to Armenia. “Ryanair’s entrance into the Armenian air travel market will undoubtedly increase the tourist flow and reduce air ticket prices. Right now the Cabinet of Ministers is working on eliminating the ‘air tax’ on all those routes from Yerevan and Gyumri that have not been used for the past year. We’ll also introduce some additional financial incentives for those who plan to launch operations to Gyumri. This is an open offer that can be used by any local or foreign airline. Ryanair was the first one to grasp this opportunity,” Pashinyan said.
Currently the country is focusing on making the Armenian market more attractive for airlines by renovating its airports. Armenia International Airports, the company that operates both Yerevan (Zvartnots, IATA code: EVN) and Gyumri (Shirak, IATA code: LWN) airports, revealed plans to invest US$20 million in the modernisation of Gyumri airport, so that, by April of next year, a new arrival hall will be opened.
In 2013, the government of Armenia launched a liberalisation programme to open up the country’s air travel market and make it more accessible and competitive. Accordingly, in 2017, the Caucasus country signed a common airspace treaty with the European Union and Ryanair became the first European LCC to enter the Armenian market. Russia’s LCC Pobeda Airlines and Ukraine’s SkyUp both already fly to the country.
Ryanair has been actively expanding its presence in the post-Soviet territories of late. The airline, which already operates flights to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine, also plans to open its first ever flights to Georgia during this coming IATA winter season, with a route from Milan’s Bergamo airport to Tbilisi and two new routes from Bologna and Marseille to Kutaisi. Ryanair will also connect Georgia’s capital Tbilisi to Cologne in April as part of the airline’s Summer 2020 schedule and expects to deliver 170,000 customers annually to/from these Georgian airports.
At the same time, following the agreement of the Russian government to introduce a partial open-skies regime over St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport, Ryanair is among a number of foreign carriers to have expressed an interest in opening flights to Russia’s fourth busiest airport using the region’s new-found seventh-freedom traffic rights.
Wizz Air, another of Europe’s fast-growing budget airlines, is also actively expanding its business in post-Soviet countries, with the Hungarian carrier already operating to the Baltic states, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Russia. Tatevik Revazyan, chairwoman of Armenia’s Civil Aviation Committee, revealed this summer that both Ryanair and Wizz Air are looking into launching flights to this country.
Armenia currently lacks a strong air transport leader. Its principal air carrier, Armenia Airlines, which launched operations in 2016, served only 75,000 passengers last year, remains in the red and is not expecting to reach break-even point until 2021. The airline’s management has complained that the liberalisation of the country’s airspace is one of its main challenges.
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