Nagorno Karabakh airport reopens, but flights delayed

By bne IntelliNews October 2, 2012

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The international airport in Stepanakert, capital of the separatist Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR), officially reopened on October 1. However, flights are yet to take off.

Flights connecting Stepanakert with Yerevan are expected to start in the near future, officials from Nagorno Karabakh claim, according to reports in the Armenian press. However, permission from Azerbaijan - which officially controls the republic - is needed for that to happen, and given the recent rise in tension between Baku and Yerevan, that looks unlikely for the meantime.

The airport has been out of use since the war between separatist Nagorno Karabakhi forces, backed by Armenia, and the Azeri army broke out in 1998. However, the de facto independent Nagorno Karabakh authorities have funded its re-construction, with the aim of initially launching three flights a week to connect Stepanakert with Yerevan.

The head of the NKR Civil Aviation Department, Valeri Adbashyan, said in an interview with News.am that the airport had received certification confirming its compliance with international standards and giving it the right to receive and dispatch flights.

However, as Nagorno Karabakh's independence is not internationally recognised, the republic officially remains part of Azerbaijan. That means permission from the Azeri authorities is needed if flights are to be launched, but Baku has consistently said it will not give the go ahead. In fact, the Azeri's have threatened to shoot down any planes violating Azerbaijani airspace by flying over Nagorno Karabakh.

In July 2012, the Azerbaijani State Civil Aviation Administration said in a statement that planned flights between Stepanakert and Yerevan would represent an invasion of Azeri airspace and "taking corresponding measures in connection with that is inevitable."

Another issue blocking the Stepanakert runway is the financial situation at Armenian flag carrier Armavia. The airline's flights from Yerevan's Zvartnots international airport were suspended on September 20 after it failed to pay its service charges. Armavia is now due to be sold off to avoid bankruptcy.

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