By Mark Dovich
Turkish airline AtlasGlobal’s direct Yerevan-Istanbul air route, which in normal circumstances operates several times a week, has been suspended since November 26, when the carrier announced it would “temporarily suspend” all flight operations until December 21. According to AtlasGlobal, the suspension comes as the company undertakes extensive restructuring “in order to provide the necessary configuration and improvement” in cash flow. Additionally, the firm announced that all ticket sales would be suspended until December 16. The vast majority of AtlasGlobal’s employees have been placed on leave, and the carrier’s website is not currently available.
Prior to the suspension in operations, AtlasGlobal’s Yerevan-Istanbul served as the only direct flight between the two cities, and as one of the few direct links between Armenia and Turkey. Although Turkey recognized Armenia’s independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the two countries have not established diplomatic relations, and their mutual border has been closed since the early 1990s due to the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
AtlasGlobal is in dire financial straits and must attempt a comprehensive restructuring in order to keep itself afloat. According to the firm’s own public statements, the financial difficulties are related to three major factors. First, civil unrest and a coup attempt in Turkey in 2015-2016 has precipitated a steep decline in the number of tourists visiting the country, causing significant losses in revenue for Turkish airline companies. Second, the currency and debt crisis that rocked Turkey in the second half of 2018, during which the Turkish lira plunged in value and inflation skyrocketed, has had severe, negative effects on Turkey’s aviation sector. Finally, this year’s move of all commercial passenger operations from Istanbul Atatürk Airport to the newly-built Istanbul Airport has placed a significant burden on AtlasGlobal in the form of increased logistical and operational costs.
AtlasGlobal has directed passengers who purchased airline tickets for the affected period to return home on different flights, purchased with their own money, after which they may apply to AtlasGlobal for financial compensation. The carrier has stated that all procedures involving financial compensation and involuntary changes of flight will be announced on December 16, the same day that ticket sales are meant to resume.
AtlasGlobal was founded in 2001 and is headquartered in Istanbul. The airline offers flights to nearly 30 destinations and operates a fleet of roughly 20 airplanes. The carrier’s CEO, Ali Murat Ersoy, is the brother of Turkey’s current Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy.
As yet, the Armenian and Turkish governments have not issued statements about the suspension of the Yerevan-Istanbul air route. Repeated phone calls regarding this matter from CivilNet to AtlasGlobal’s representation in Yerevan went unanswered.