By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s state-run airline sealed on Wednesday the lease of a new modern plane that will allow it to carry out first-ever regular flights to the United States.
Armenian Airlines, which was hit hard by the loss of its flagship passenger jet last January, will lease an Airbus A330 from a recently established Belgian carrier, VG Airlines. The two companies signed the deal in Yerevan.
The head of the Armenian civil aviation agency, Hovannes Yeritsian, told reporters that the A330 will fly from Yerevan to Los Angeles starting from May 26. He said it will make brief stopovers in Brussels.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Armenian side will pay the Belgians $100,000 for every round trip to Los Angeles. Yeritsian said Armenian Airlines will need to fill at least 65 percent of the plane’s 239 seats in order for the flight to be profitable.
Most of the passengers on board Armenian Airlines flights to Europe are bound for the U.S. and particularly California, which is home to a large Armenian community. Until now they had to take connecting flights at Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris carried out by major U.S. or European carriers.
Officials said the direct service between Yerevan and Los Angeles will lead Armenian Airlines to scrap the Amsterdam and Frankfurt flights. The heavily indebted company has already been barred from flying to the Dutch capital after it failed to find an adequate replacement for its A310 plane, grounded in January.
A major engine problem has effectively removed the plane from service, leaving Armenia without commercial jets meeting the European Union’s noise and safety regulations.
VG Airlines was created late last year from the ashes of Sabena, Belgium’s main national airline which had gone bankrupt. Officials said the deal with Armenian Airlines is part of its efforts expand into the United States. Under the agreement, VG will have the right to sell most tickets for the Brussels-Los Angeles flights.