Over the past year, travel to Armenia marked double-digit growth, yet many Diasporan and American tourists lament the absence of a direct flight from a major U.S. city to Yerevan’s Zvartnots Airport. Currently, travelers’ only option from the U.S. is to purchase tickets using connecting flights on foreign carriers, often with long layovers.
This is why the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) has recently called upon the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to facilitate the launch of non-stop flights from the United States to the Republic of Armenia. Not only will this ease transit for tourists and accelerate business travel and cargo movement, but it will deepen bilateral ties between two friendly nations.
In a letter shared on the eve of Armenian Independence Day, ANCA Chairman Raffi Hamparian encouraged Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell to engage with Armenia’s civil aviation authorities on concrete steps toward this powerful new connection between the American and Armenian peoples.
While establishing new airline routes are driven by air carriers and the private sector, many don’t realize there is heavy involvement from a government to government perspective as well. “Many aspects of establishing new routes is driven by many regulatory, bilateral aviation agreements and security certifications,” ANCA and aviation expert Zanku Armenian told The Armenian Weekly. “In Armenia’s case, given it is a developing country and economy, the role of government to government discussions is particularly critical.”
“Once government hurdles are cleared,” he continued, “the private carrier that steps forward to establish this new non-stop route will enjoy the long-term business benefits by being a first-mover on such an opportunity. This is why the ANCA has been initiating dialogue with various U.S. federal, state and local authorities and private sector parties to advocate for this game-changing idea.”
According to the FAA, “over most of the past decade, the international market has been the growth segment for U.S. carriers when compared to the mature U.S. domestic market. This international growth is shifting the geographical center of gravity for aviation in terms of arriving and departing passengers farther east, from North America (the birthplace of aviation) toward the Asia/Pacific, and the pace of this shift is accelerating. With new longer-range aircraft capabilities and an emerging middle class, more countries are seeking direct flight access to the profitable U.S. market, and they must meet the same safety oversight levels we follow in the United States.”
There are many precedents of advocacy with government agencies, such as the FAA and Department of Transportation to drive more airline routes, one example being between the U.S. and Japan. Much like the concept of ‘soccer diplomacy’ in which officials tap into the popularity and universal appeal of sports as a vehicle for negotiating diplomatic relations, there is also a similar concept called ‘aviation diplomacy,’ explained Armenian. Aviation is also one of the most highly regulated sectors in private industry. Thus, it’s often the case that federal agencies of countries are involved in negotiations regarding direct commercial flights (often to ensure the exchange will be mutual).