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Aeroflot is the national airline of Russia with its main base at Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport. Formerly wholly-state owned, the airline has been partially privatised and continues to be the dominant carrier in the country, accounting for about 20% of the Russian passenger market. The Russian Government continues to hold 51.17% of the airline's equity. Legal entities and individuals own the rest. Aeroflot operates an extensive network of domestic services within Russia, as well as international services to Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America. Aeroflot is Russia’s largest air carrier; it accounts for over 42% of international scheduled and 13.7% of domestic traffic in Russia (with its subsidiaries, around 20%). Aeroflot is a member of SkyTeam.
Aeroflot has been a leading voice behind consolidation in the Russian airline industry, and has supported the Government's plan to address the fragmentation of the airline industry that has been a central feature since the fall of the Soviet Union. Aeroflot has taken over management control of four Russian airlines including Rossiya, Orenair, Vladivostok Avia and SAT Airlines.
Location of Aeroflot main hub (Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport)
Aeroflot share price
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Europe's airlines: 1H2014 results season shows improving trend, but cost reduction is the key driver
Europe's airlines appear to be following a course to improved profitability, based on the 1H2014 results of the largest publicly quoted airline groups. Profits remain slender in most cases, but margins are improving in aggregate. Individually, financial performance varied widely, with LCCs both leading (Ryanair) and lagging (Norwegian) the operating profit margin rankings in 1H2014.
The European market offers volume growth, but is characterised by price pressure, with RASK falling for the majority of the larger airline groups and this points to the need for additional caution in capacity growth. The LCCs collectively enjoyed higher growth than the FSCs in 1H2014 and also achieved a more stable RASK performance (although not in all cases).
Profit improvement is largely being achieved through cost savings and CASK reduction. Although fuel prices are high on a longer term historic perspective, they are enjoying a period of relative stability and this has helped the cost picture. Although Europe's airline sector remains only thinly profitable, these 1H results hold out the prospect of better full year results in 2014 versus 2013.
The Aeroflot Group fell into loss in 1H2014, its first 1H loss since at least 2008. Although the result was affected by a significant level of non-recurring expenses, the underlying operating result was still significantly lower than last year. Aeroflot continues to grow faster than the Russian market and its focus on increased frequencies, rather than new routes, has helped the Group to grow its RASK (revenue per available seat kilometre). Unfortunately, this growth in RASK was outpaced by growth in CASK (cost per available seat kilometre).
The current geopolitical backdrop is clearly providing Aeroflot with some serious challenges. Demand for international flights has been weakened and EU sanctions forced the suspension of operations of Aeroflot's nascent LCC Dobrolet. Plans by the Russian government to reduce its stake in Aeroflot to 50% plus one share may now meet with delays as investors are likely to want to wait for the geopolitical situation to become more stable.
Russia’s parliament, the Duma, recently adopted a bill allowing Russian carriers to offer different fare classes and non-refundable tickets. The law will enter into force 60 days from its official publication, effectively creating the conditions to allow low-cost carriers to establish in the domestic market. Meanwhile, Aeroflot's planned new LCC subsidiary, Dobrolet, is nearer to its planned launch, reported to be in May-2014 with a service from Moscow to St Petersburg.
At Aeroflot's Capital Markets Day (13-Mar-2014), it provided more details of Dobrolet's business model (close to a pure LCC) and of its planned network development (11 destinations in 2014, rising to 36 after five years). With plans to price its tickets at a discount of 20% to 40%, we assess if and how it can achieve the necessary cost savings to ensure profitability.
In 2013, the Aeroflot Group achieved a 38% increase in net income. ASKs and passenger numbers grew by 14%, reflecting both the strong underlying growth in the Russian market and Aeroflot's powerful market position. Revenue growth, at 12%, did not quite match this, but the Group managed to lower its unit costs and hence drive the improvement in profit.
As the leading airline group in the Russian Federation, Aeroflot has benefited from its government's smoothing of the path to consolidation, while keeping LCC competition at bay. The government is now ready to allow the development of LCCs domestically and foreign LCCs are making their presence felt on international routes.
With Aeroflot now on the verge of setting up its own LCC subsidiary, Dobrolet, CAPA reviews the Group's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
This end-of-year wrap reviews 15 of the most read reports from CAPA analysts in 2013. The most popular report from CAPA’s analysts this year looked at the impending impact of the big three Middle East airlines on the US market, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, once they establish there more widely. In particular it looked at the direction of Emirates, shortly after commencing a remarkable joint venture agreement with Qantas which commenced on 1-Apr-2013.
In Asia, much of the attention is towards the rise and rise of LCCs and their various international joint venture operations, all accelerating the process of change away from the old bilateral restrictions. For Europe too, most of the action has derived from the main LCCs, as the established airlines struggle to reduce costs and find new models to help them adapt to the new environment – including partnerships with the former enemies from the Gulf.
Latin America too has seen several key cross border mergers, including the LATAM consolidation to create the largest airline group in the region. Africa, with one or two exceptions, sadly still struggles to overcome inefficiencies and government meddling, while gradually opening up to private, more efficient models. And Russia looks forward to a new 2014 with renewed vigour.
Is the LCC label still valid? Are they only about point-to-point markets? What are the prospects for LCCs created by full service carriers? Is there a unit cost threshold that defines a low-cost carrier? Peter van Fenema, Adjunct Professor at McGill University, led a panel discussion at the CAPA World Aviation Summit in Amsterdam in Nov-2013, in which executives shared their experiences of being involved in LCCs.
The panel included representatives of a European LCC owned by a legacy group, a legacy group planning a new LCC subsidiary, a start-up LCC in Africa, China’s only pure LCC and an investor in LCCs.
In our fourth in a series of reports on the panel discussions at the Summit, we summarise recent LCC experiences and developments.