May 19, 2011

Yerevan Airport Reconstruction Nearing Completion

An Argentine company managing Armenia’s main international airport pledged on Wednesday to essentially complete its multimillion-dollar reconstruction and more than double the airport capacity this year.

The Corporacion America group of Eduardo Eurnekian, an Argentine billionaire of Armenian descent, took over the Zvartnots airport near Yerevan in 2002 after signing a 30-year management contract with the Armenian government.

The agreement committed it to building a new airport terminal and modernizing other airport facilities left over from the Soviet era. The terminal’s arrivals section went into service in 2006, while work on the larger departures section is still going on.

Andranik Shikhkian, Zvartnots’s deputy managing director, told journalists that the construction will be complete by the end of this year. He said Eurnekian’s group, which operates over 30 airports across South America, has invested $160 million in the 34,000 square-meter facility.

According to Shikhkian, this will allow Zvartnots to handle up to 3 million passengers a year, up from 1.1 million passengers who used it last year. “Compared with Azerbaijan and Georgia, we will have a twice bigger capacity, both in terms of passenger traffic and use of modern technology,” he said.

Shikhkian added that the new terminal will also significantly speed up passenger check-in at Zvartnots. “In place of 24 check-in desks existing now we will have 46 ones,” he said. “Check-in lines have long been the main source of complaints by passengers.”

The official also expressed hope that the upgraded airport will attract more transit flights from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. “The airport can simultaneously accept up to 10 flights per hour,” he said. “Right now, we have up to five flights every hour.”

It remains to be seen whether the expensive reconstruction will have any impact on the cost of the airport’s ground services for airlines and the national Armavia carrier in particular. Armavia has long accused the Zvartnots management of setting exorbitant tariffs that are higher than even in western Europe.

As recently last March, Zvartnots delayed several Armavia flights over the private airline’s alleged failure to pay its outstanding debts. The two sides traded recriminations before settling the dispute.

“Our airport is much cheaper than the airports in, say, Vienna or London,” insisted Shikhkian. He stressed that the airport fees have not changed since 2002.

The Zvartnots complex is also expected to become soon home to Armenia’s first-ever tax-free zone that will mainly cater for domestically grown agricultural produce to be exported abroad. It will reportedly have warehouses equipped with refrigerators, packaging facilities and a food safety laboratory.

The creation of the tax haven is envisaged by Eurnekian’s 2001 agreement with the Armenian government. The Argentine tycoon, who has a warm rapport with Armenia’s current and former presidents, owns hundreds of hectares of vineyards and orchards in the Ararat Valley adjacent to the airport. 

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