Iravaban.net launches a series of interviews with CEOs to cover the issues related to the application, transparency and the accountability of anti-corruption procedures mechanisms and the reforms in their companies. The first interlocutor of this series is the head of the General Department of Civil Aviation adjunct to the RoA Government Sergey Avetisyan.
Mr. Avetisyan, would you please start with presenting the current stage of development of the civil aviation?
Since 2013 the civil aviation has been undergoing serious transformations. Namely, we started the policy of sky liberalization and granted all the airlines a privilege to schedule a maximum number of flights across Armenia in accordance with their economic basis.
At present all the obstacles are removed, whereas in the past these restrictions prevented the airlines from supplying the appropriate service even in case there was demand. However we still face quite serious changes, trying to put into practice the results of scientific development. To be more specific, we already have a package of laws to make the process of rights issuance to the airlines and work with the state, in general, more transparent and easier. At the moment an online system is being designed with the so-called Virtual Cabinet for every airline wishing to enter the Armenian market, where they can input the documentation required by the state. By the way, we intend to reduce the number of the documents required, thus making the process more transparent. I hope this will be the first positive initiative that the private sector will experience. Today the private sector complains that the procedures are not always simple and clear, moreover some of the documents required are redundant.
In recent years there have numerous comparisons with neighboring Georgia, in terms of rates and flight directions, and these comparisons seem to be exclusively in favor of Georgia. How could you comment this?
Criticism in this sphere is natural, because aviation is the sphere with which all of us as citizens are directly related.
When we say that a business entity enters the market to this or that extent, we mean that it is here to pursue profit. The lack of demand for round-trip flights from Yerevan to Europe presupposes that no business will enter the market without a specific marketing plan aimed at developing this or that direction.
There are flights much cheaper from Yerevan than from Georgia, like there are flights much more economical from Georgia. The market is quite diverse. So I cannot admit that all the flights from Armenia are more expensive than from Georgia.
Which flights are more economical from Armenia?
Flights to Dubai in most cases and flights to Moscow almost always. Yes, perhaps it would be more economical to fly to Dusseldorf from Georgia, but it is not a direct flight. So some research will unveil that this economical flight to Dusseldorf is operated by the Turkish airlines “Pegasus”. Yes, this company has a very wide coverage and, in terms of geography, it is more rational to fly to the west, to Istanbul, and continue the way to the west. We all have friends and relatives who prefer to fly from Georgia. If we come to ask, these are mainly Turkish airlines, or charter flights operated by tour agencies. We do not impose any restrictions to do the same here. It is a different issue that businesses do not enter the Armenian market due to the lack of demand. Currently we are working actively to diversify our market both in regard to prices and geography.
Which are the ways to increase this demand?
The ways are very simple, first we need to trigger interest for Armenia in Europe so that people wish to visit Armenia, and secondly it is the development of the internal market which is a rather complicated and complex process involving a number of successfully operating factors, namely political, geopolitical.
Currently we have numerous meetings with airlines, state representatives and review interstate agreements.
At the Parliament session you announced that a new airline is entering the market. Could it cut down the prices of flights to Europe so that our citizens can travel to Europe at more economical prices this summer?
It is the function of the private sector, which we actively support trying to create favorable conditions. Yes, now we have been conducting negotiations with airlines for a long time, and there is one which will soon enter the market.
(A day after the interview it became known it is the “Pobeda” airlines which will operate flights from “Shirak” airport.)
You have been one of the advocates of the “open skies”. Do we have any results after liberalizing the sky?
We do, it is the increasing passenger flow, which in its turn presupposes the decrease in the flight prices, although we also face criticism. I declared at the Parliament and have verified it today that the flight tickets for the round-trip to Moscow next week are approximately $150. And hardly anyone will say that it is expensive for such an off-budget company like “Aeroflot”. In addition, Moscow is a connecting airport to other directions.
Yes, we are focused on Moscow, which means that round-trip flights to Moscow are in great demand. We have 13 flights to Moscow daily.
You have studied in Singapore; a country which is known for its experience in fighting corruption and which serves as a guide for other countries in the world. . Do you think it is possible to apply Singapore experience in Armenia as well?
Nothing is given for free. Singapore also paid high price to have what they have now. It should be mentioned that the population in Singapore does not always welcome the transformations and processes in the country. It is important to understand that all this happened in Singapore in 1968. There has a drastic about-turn since then. And it should be borne in mind that there are significant discrepancies between our geopolitical views, geographical location, time period, population and cultural peculiarities are highly different. In my opinion, if we apply one-to-one the same experience in Armenia starting in 2016, we may encounter serious problems.
It is not about one-to-one application, but rather general concepts and mechanisms.
The underlying principle for all these reforms in Singapore has been pragmatism upon which the country is built. Pragmatism and reforms are not always perceptible. Pragmatic decisions are aimed at long-term outcomes, whereas at the level of short-term results population can be not very happy with the reforms. For instance, Singapore adopted English as an official language in one day. Can you imagine that in January 2017 English becomes the official language of the Republic of Armenia? A very pragmatic resolution with evident positive implications for foreign investments. But what is the price we will pay for it? Are we ready for it? I think, no. We need to find a specific and appropriate way for us, perhaps based on the experience of Singapore and other countries.
Can you talk on the corruption risks in civil aviation and the measures taken to minimize these risks?
There is no corruption in the civil aviation department. Let us label anti-corruption fight as reforms, which we have touched upon above. As a first step, the whole process of cooperation with the private sector, most importantly issuance of permits will be online, transparent, simple, flexible and time-saving. We are now working in this direction.
Why do you exclude corruption risks?
Risks are existent, and not only in this sphere and not only in our country. Do you think these risks are absolutely eradicated in Singapore? Corruption risks were and will exist as long as there is humanity. We just need to minimize and eliminate these risks to the extent possible. And we pursue this policy.
There should be a favorable atmosphere for businesses to feel comfortable and where the negative subjects shall have minimal opportunities. And transparency provides minimal opportunity.
At the moment we are forming a system with a minimal number of negative phenomena. However we view it not as a fight against corruption, but rather steps for more transparent, simpler, measurable and convenient environment for the private sector.
Could you talk on the achievements you have had while in office (Sergey Avetisyan took office this year on June 8)?
It is still early to register any tangible results; these will become evident with the time. As a pure statistics I can claim the following: with not a very high dynamics at the start of the year, we witness 30% increase in the passengers’ number which is an ongoing phenomenon. The situation in April had an adverse influence on the incoming tourism in Armenia, many tickets were cancelled, and we also had negative numbers. But at the moment we have positive indicators meaning there is space for growth and I am very optimistic about it.
What are your visions for the development in the sphere within a year?
The most important provisions are formulated in the State program. In aviation any change, positive or negative, is immediately visible, since we are directly related with it.
According to you, what value system should a person holding the highest public office have to fight successfully with corruption?
Integrity, dignity, and patriotism. There are many characteristics, but these are vital.
Interviewer: Astghik Karapetian
Photos: Aleksander Sargsyan
Translation from Armenian by: Ruzanna Karapetyan, student of Graduate Certificate in Translation Progam, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, AUA
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