Armenian citizens flying from Georgia: incomparable prices and high hopes

Arpi Bekaryan

Armen Avagyan, a 27 year old engineer, is a citizen of Armenia, who is living in Yerevan and defines himself as a traveler. He started travelling from 2015. So far he has been in 10 countries and dozens of cities. As he told, he has now another planned journey, during which he is going to visit 5 countries. His friends come to him for any advice concerning travelling. But what is surprising, Avagyan had never had a flight from Armenia. “The cheapest airplane tickets from Yerevan are almost equal to the average salary in Armenia. No one can give his one month salary only to a ticket”.

Avagyan planned all his flights from Georgia. He told the prices of airplane tickets from Georgia and Armenia are incomparable because of the tax policy. “Though it seems like they want to change their policy by adding some new flights” he said.

In March 2017, Avagyan travelled from Kutaisi to Thessaloniki for 10 US Dollars with WizzAir and then from Thessaloniki to Rome for 20 US Dollars. Both of the tickets were with return. For the whole journey of 8 days Avagyan spent almost as much as costs the airplane ticket Yerevan-Rome-Yerevan.

Last year Avagyan travelled to London during Christmas time spending only 40 US Dollars for airplane ticket. “If the prices from Georgia where the same as in Armenia, I would not have the opportunity to travel this much, I think I would travel once in 2 years in the best case scenario”.

Rimas Andrekus, 34 year old tour manager is a citizen of Lithuania, living in Edinburgh. As Andrekus’ girlfriend lives in Armenia, his roads bring him to this country often. As he told his journey from Edinburgh to Yerevan usually takes 30 hours all together.  “The cheapest way to travel from Britain to Armenia is to take connected flights from Edinburgh to London, from London to Kutaisi, then by bus to Tbilisi, and finally by taxi to Yerevan”. Andrekus told he did not compare tickets of Yerevan with the tickets of Tbilisi, but he had always compared Yerevan’s ticket prices with Kutaisi’s. “I understand Yerevan is a capital and it could have higher rates, but to me it is because of poor management of the country that the airport of Yerevan has higher landing charges”.

For getting the full image we compared the tickets of capital Yerevan with the tickets of capital Tbilisi. As for August, which is usually the most expensive month for travelling, the cheapest airplane ticket from Tbilisi to London and back costs approximately 335 US dollars with Georgian Airways direct flight. While from Yerevan the cheapest ticket costs 369 US dollars, going from Yerevan to Warsaw, then to London by LOT, which takes approximately 10-11 hours.

We can also have a look to the picture by comparing the flights from the same airline. Ukrainian Airlines offers flights to London both from Yerevan and Tbilisi. In August the cost of Tbilisi-London-Tbilisi flight ticket is 347 US dollars flying by UA, while the cost of Yerevan-London-Yerevan flight ticket of UA is 470 US dollars. The difference is 123 US dollars.

As for Kutaisi airport, the cheapest ticket for August costs 207 US dollars with direct flight of WizzAir. (All the prices are checked in 22nd of December, 2018).

Andrekus told he usually takes a bus from Kutaisi to Tbilisi, and then a taxi from Tbilisi to Yerevan, The taxi usually costs 14-15 US dollars for one person, and the bus from Kutaisi Airport to Tbilisi costs 7.50 US Dollars. All together this is 22.50 US dollars and 12 hours in the car. “Usually I am arriving in morning and in Tbilisi everything is shut at this time. So I am forced to wait for a café to be opened. The situation is worse when it rains. After 30 hours on road it is not possible to stay in a good shape, especially without shower or proper sleep” told Andrekus.

Lusine Nalbandyan, Andrekus’ girlfriend, said that she even feels guilty sometimes for that long journeys he has to take, “Just to see each other for couple of days he has to cross 3 countries”. At the same time Nalbandyan suggested Andrekus to travel from Georgia from her own experience. “In Armenia people are used to do business thinking only about high incomes. If our airport would like to provide services to all people, no matter financial status, they would have increased the number of flights, they would choose flexible monetary policy, so that everybody would have a choice” she said. Nalbandyan is sure it would promote to business competition and new investments will show up in the sphere. “This is simply discrimination to restrict the right of freedom of movement for some people based on their financial situation” said Nalbandyan. In her opinion a huge percentage of working people in Armenia cannot let themselves travel to Europe, Asia or the destinations they want to because of the high ticket prices.

Airplane ticket prices in every country are determined by the value of the ticket itself and several types of taxes. In Armenia there are three type of taxes which are added to the ticket price: Passenger airport and security charge, Passenger service charge and State tax which always worth 10.000 Armenian drams for a person. State tax is described as a Governmental level of duty for international departures from Armenia. This tax does not apply only for the flights to Tbilisi. But this kind of tax does not exist in any other country of the region or any country of Europe.

Tatevik Revazyan, new Chair of Civil Aviation Committee in Armenia, said that State tax also exists in Jordan. However, Revazyan told they are going to do anything they can to create better conditions for the airlines by working towards decreasing the costs: “besides taxes, this includes also ground service fees, fuel, navigation, etc”.

30 year old Revazyan was appointed as a Chair of Civil Aviation Committee in July, 2018, some months after the Revolution in Armenia. At the time some were complaining that she is too young to manage this committee, while some were hopeful that changes will accrue in this sphere due to young leader, who had been living in Denmark 24 years of her life and has knowledge and experience in the sphere.

Revazyan told that now the committee is working on creating a marketing fund for promoting new routes. “Since I entered this role, I have personally spoken to more than 25 airlines, including low cost airlines. It will be easier for us when we have signed the Common Aviation Area Agreement with the EU (which we expect to sign before the summer”. Revazyan said they have high level contacts in all relevant low cost airlines that they can leverage from.

Talking about the airplane ticket price difference in Armenia and Georgia, Revazyan confirmed that Armenia now has a very limited number of low cost airlines comparing to Georgia. She linked this to Georgia’s huge budget comparing to Armenia: “Georgia is able to offer the low cost airlines very good conditions covering some of their costs” she said.

Despite the limited budget, however, Stepan Payaslyan, deputy director of Air Transportation Regulation Department, told three air companies have resumed their flights to Armenia in 2018, operating scheduled flights in Summer season: Arkia Israeli Airlines operated on the route Tel Aviv-Yerevan-Tel Aviv, Czech Airlines, on the route Prague-Yerevan-Prague, Brussels Airlines on the route Brussels-Yerevan-Brussels, and it is also expected that in 2019 the Romanian ‘Tarom’ airlines will start operating scheduled flights to/from Armenia.

Payaslyan told also new flights were introduced to Armenia in 2018, such as Berlin-Yerevan-Berlin, Rostov on Don-Yerevan- Rostov on Don, Krasnodar-Yerevan-Krasnodar, Stavropol-Yerevan-Stavropol and Kazan-Yerevan-Kazan.

Thought new flights to European cities are being scheduled, there is still a concern that flights by the European airlines will lose in competition with Russian Airlines. Gagik Grigoryan, founder of “Great Tours” tourism agency told that the transit flights to Europe by Moscow with Russian airlines are always cheaper, and people prefer taking cheaper flights even if it is not a direct flight.

Grigoryan also said that their agency suggests people to choose between the flights from Yerevan and Tbilisi: “Usually solo travelers take flights from Georgia, but the ones who are travelling with families are not able to take that long road”, said Grigoryan.

While the reforms are yet in process, Tbilisi and Kutaisi international airports are serving a huge number of Armenian citizens as well, who are not able to pay for tickets from their country of living.