The escalation of a long-running conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has seen Ukraine International Airlines (PS, Kyiv Boryspil) and various other carriers cancelling flights to Yerevan.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan imposed martial law as the countries accused each other for the renewed clashes from September 27, 2020. Heavy artillery fire from both sides resulted in nearly 100 casualties, including civilians, reported BBC and Euronews. Armenia released a picture of an Armenian Su-25 jet it claimed was shot down by a Turkish F-16 on September 29. Turkey, which is backing Azerbaijan, denied the claim. Following calls for a ceasefire from France, Russia and the US, Armenia on October 2 said it was prepared to engage with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to re-establish a ceasefire.

The disputed region is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but ethnic Armenians have controlled the territory since a 1988-1994 war between the two former Soviet republics. The latest fighting was the heaviest seen in the long-running conflict since 2016, reports said.

Azerbaijan banned all commercial passenger flights, except services to Turkey, amid the escalating conflict. While Yerevan remained open to commercial traffic, Armenia issued a NOTAM, asking all operators to monitor the status of large sections of airspace in the UDDD/Yerevan FIR near the eastern border. Tactical rerouting and short notice closures were likely and operators were advised to carry additional fuel accordingly, (UDDD NOTAM A0114/20), reports OpsGroup.

In July 2020, both France and Germany issued airspace warnings for this border region, with the French NOTAM warning still in effect in September 2020, saying that overflights should be at FL340 or above. With no immediate cessation of the conflict in sight, SaveSpace, the independent conflict zone and risk database, recommended that operators avoid the border region between Azerbaijan and Armenia until the airspace safety picture improved.

Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) on October 2 cancelled its third regular flight (PS611) since September 28 from Kyiv Boryspil to Yerevan, saying it continued to analyse the feasibility of flights over the conflict zone.

“We assessed all possible risks and decided that it is impossible to operate flights to Yerevan until further actions are explained by the aviation authorities of Ukraine and until the official position of Baku and Yerevan (is clear) to ensure the security of the airspace in the sky over Azerbaijan and Armenia,” UIA Chief Executive Officer, Eugene Dykhne, said in a statement.

Ukrainian low-cost carrier, SkyUp Airlines (PQ, Kyiv Boryspil) in a statement said it had decided to continue with its scheduled flights from Kiev to Yerevan. “Passenger safety is a key priority for SkyUp, so the airline constantly receives operational data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, the Embassy of Ukraine in the Republic of Armenia, the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure of the Republic of Armenia, and the Embassy of Armenia in Ukraine, as well as aviation regulatory bodies of both countries, dispatch services, Zvartnots airport (Yerevan, Armenia). All of them are now confident that there are no obstacles to flights. In addition, the route is absolutely safe, because it passes through the territory of Georgia, and the plane enters Armenia from the western side. However, as the situation develops, SkyUp continues to constantly monitor and assess risks in order to stop operating flights in case of changes, or turn the aircraft back or land at an alternate airfield if changes occur directly during the flight,” the airline said.

UAE start-up Wizz Air Abu Dhabi (5W, Abu Dhabi Int'l) announced it had postponed its twice-weekly service to Yerevan for a month to November 17, after the airline’s launch was delayed to mid-October.

Meanwhile, Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport published a list of more than a dozen airlines it claimed had resumed regular commercial flights to Armenia following the country’s reopening to international travel.

It said Armenia Airways (6A, Yerevan) began operating flights to Tehran Imam Khomeini from September 20. According to the ch-aviation schedules module, the airline’s flights were operating as scheduled, as were those of Armenia Aircompany (RM, Yerevan).

Russia’s Aeroflot (SU, Moscow Sheremetyevo) started operating twice a week from Moscow Sheremetyevo on August 27, and upped its schedule to thrice-weekly from September 27, the airport said, but no Yerevan flights by Aeroflot currently reflect on the ch-aviation schedules module.

Airlines listed as operating to Yerevan by Zvartnots airport, whose flight schedules are verified by the ch-aviation schedules module, include S7 Airlines, Belavia, MEA - Middle East Airlines, Qatar Airways, Air France, and Austrian Airlines.

Airlines listed by Zvartnots that could not be verified included flydubai, Air Cairo, FlyEgypt, AMC Airlines, and Air Arabia.

Armenia lifted a ban on foreigners entering the country on August 12, 2020, after having closed its borders on March 16 due to COVID-19. The country’s COVID-19 state of emergency expired on September 12, but arrivals are required to self-quarantine for 14 days or submit to a PCR test. Persons who choose to take a PCR test and receive a negative result may be exempted from self-quarantine. On October 1, Armenia had 50,850 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 44,219 recoveries and 963 deaths.