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Chapter II

bastashevski-state business-exhibition view

Thirty one of the thirty nine  flights transporting dangerous cargo from MDI Podgorica airport for Moisten Engineering in Yerevan were scheduled to land at the civilian and cargo airport of Zvartnots (UDYZ). Instead all 39 landed at the Erebuni military base (UDYE), controlled jointly by Armenian and Russian forces. V-Bird and Air Highnesses were the two companies that operated the flights between Montenegro and Podgorica in 2010 and 2011 for MDI and Mosston. The two are part of a loose network of Armenian air freight companies, which also includes Southern Airlines, Phoenix Aviation ( see also chapter IV) Ayk Air, Skiva Air, and Taron Air. Vagram Symonyan, director of V-Bird and Southern Airlines, has a notoriously bad reputation in the Russian pilot community, the pilots mention poor working conditions, low salaries, and his lack of managerial expertise.


During the past five years these companies have shared rotating ownership of a small pool of cargo aircraft, contact information, and management. Sometimes repainted, often changing registration numbers, the planes are known to fly dangerous cargo to Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Somalia, and Afghanistan. In 2013 2011 Ayk Air was involved in violating a UN arms embargo through the delivery of Albanian ammunition to Libyan rebels. Although registered in Armenia, the companies, pilots, and planes are currently based in UAE. In November 2012, An IL-76, one that previously flew for Air Highnesses, crashed on landing in the DRC. The Armenian crew and over 20 locals on the ground were killed. The plane, flying for a Congolese airline, reportedly lacked a Certificate of Airworthiness.


Ex CEO of Blackwater, Erik Prince made use of three An-26 aircraft to move supplies and equipment into Puntland for the paramilitary operations while he was managing as a founder of private military company “Saracen”.  All three were leased from South Airlines. 


Zvartnots International Airport, 2012

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