Stock - Fly Arna
Ready to fly - that's what Fly Arna is all set to do. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Air Arabia’s latest venture, the Fly Arna airline in Armenia, will launch July 3, with its first flight being to the Hurghada in Egypt. Fly Arna is a joint venture between Sharjah-headquartered Air Arabia and Armenia’s sovereign wealth fund.

The airline, which received its first Airbus A320 aircraft on Friday, will soon have flights connecting Armenia with Sharm El Sheikh (Egypt) and Beirut. As per the airline’s booking website, a flight from Yerevan to Hurghada will cost at least $220 (Dh808), while a ticket to Sharm el-Sheikh will be the same.

This marks the beginning of ‘a new era for Armenia’s aviation sector’, said Adel Ali, Air Arabia’s CEO. “Fly Arna will offer its customers value-added air travel services while contributing significant value to the economy by boosting the tourism, hospitality, and business sectors. We are looking forward to adding more destinations to Fly Arna’s network in the near future.”

Aviation industry analysts said that Fly Arna will be looking to expand its network in Central Asia, Russia, and the Middle East. “In the launch phase, Fly Arna will be focusing on serving the key markets from Armenia, targeting leisure, VFR (visiting friends and relatives) and migrant workers,” said Linus Bauer, Managing Director of Bauer Aviation Advisory.

The airline’s fleet of Airbus A320 planes coupled with Armenia’s geographic location – between Asia and Europe – will allow Fly Arna to serve many destinations within a 3- to 4-hour flight radius.

EU issues persist

Flights to European destinations such as Amsterdam and Paris will not happen soon. Earlier this year, Air Arabia’s Ali said that flights connecting Armenia to Europe were not an ‘immediate’ part of the plan.

The Armenian regulator’s somewhat strained relationship with the EU does not help either. In June 2020, EU banned all seven airlines registered in Armenia from operating regular flights to the EU, saying they failed to meet international aviation safety standards. Although Armenia and the EU reached an agreement last year to establish a common aviation area, the airline blacklist remains in place.

A spokesperson for the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said that all Armenian carriers are still subject to an operating ban. “Armenian carriers are free to contract other carriers to operate on their behalf on a wet-lease basis - these carriers could be Union carriers or foreign carriers that hold an EASA Third Country Operator (TCO) authorization,” said the spokesperson, citing the organization’s regulations.

Armavia debacle

Armenia’s aviation industry suffered its first big setback in 2013 when the country’s 17-year-old flag carrier – Armavia - went under as it struggled to recover from the impact of the global financial crisis. Armavia’s downfall began in 2006 when its Airbus A320-200 plane crashed in the Russian city of Sochi. The airline also suffered heavy losses due to the Russian-made Sukhoi SSJ Superjet, which required repairs in the first year of its service.

Air Arabia, which is a low-cost specialist, managed to report a profit even during the peak of the pandemic through aggressive cost cuts. At the new Armenian carrier, Air Arabia can initially keep costs at a minimum by bringing in experienced Middle East-based staff for the operations. Some Sharjah-based Air Arabia pilots confirmed that they were given an option to work for Fly Arna.

The airline's joint venture with Etihad Airways - Air Arabia Abu Dhabi - has seen early success. The new Abu Dhabi-based carrier is already operating flights to more than 20 destinations.

“We are very proud because within the broader Gulf region it’s the first AOC (air operator certificate), to our knowledge, that went fully profitable from Year One,” said Etihad Airways’ CEO Tony Douglas during an Aviation Week podcast in April. “That’s testimony to Air Arabia’s ability to run a very tight ship indeed.”

Going forward, Fly Arna could benefit from any liberalization efforts on the EU front. “By keeping the EU's Eastern Partnership policy active, closer cooperation between the EU and Armenia would contribute enormously to the country's aviation and tourism sectors,” said Bauer. “In that case, Fly Arna could pave the way for a better future of the Armenian aviation industry.”