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The passenger air transportation sector in Russia can be characterised by significant competition. Aeroflot is majority owned by the Russian Government and is the flag carrier and largest airline of the Russian Federation. The three major airports serving Moscow are Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO), Domodedovo International Airport (DME) and Vnukovo International Airport (VKO). Aeroflot dominates the domestic passenger market in Russia, however other airlines also provide frequent national and international services and they include S7 Airlines, Transaero, UTair Aviation as well as VIM Airlines and Nordavia. The Federal Agency for Air Transport of Russia is the government agency that is responsible for rendering governmental services and managing governmental property in the sphere of air transport (civil aviation) and the usage of air space over the Russian Federation.
Airports in Russian Federation
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On 3-Sep-2015, Russia's leading airline Aeroflot agreed to an offer from Transaero Airlines' shareholders to sell it at least 75% plus one share of number two ranked Transaero. The price requested for control of the heavily indebted and loss-making airline, to be paid within 24 days, was "no more than" RUB1.
Aeroflot chairman Kirill Androsov hailed the deal's “transformational significance" for the Aeroflot Group, saying it was "fully in line" with its strategy". He added that it should help the group in its aims to carry 70 million passengers by 2025 (compared with 35 million in 2014, versus 13 million for Transaero) and be in Europe's top five and the world's top 20 airlines by revenue and passenger numbers.
Nevertheless, Mr Androsov may have been attempting a brave face. The decision was influenced by a government seeking to maintain market and employment stability and also requires tough negotiations with Transaero's creditors. Moreover, Aeroflot faces a difficult choice. Either it tries to maintain Transaero's unprofitable fleet and network, which overlaps significantly with its own, or it must attempt the politically more challenging closure of large chunks of Transaero's operations. Neither option looks easy.
Aeroflot back in operating profit in 1H. Transaero acquisition to take its market share close to 50%
The Aeroflot Group turned around an operating loss in 1H2014 into a profit in 1H2015. The depreciation of the RUB served to boost both revenue and operating costs, with a net negative impact, but Aeroflot managed to grow its RASK more rapidly than its CASK.
The Ukraine crisis and tense international relations continue to weigh on demand for travel to/from Russia. But demand for domestic flights is growing strongly.
Moreover, Aeroflot is taking advantage of capacity reductions by cautious international rivals and struggling domestic competitors to increase its leading share of the Russian air transport market. The group's market share now looks set to jump to embrace almost a half of all passengers to/from/within Russia once it completes the acquisition of second ranked Transaero.
The price of a barrel of Brent Crude, the most popular method of tracking oil prices, is today around USD56 a barrel - and this follows a (brief?) rally. A year ago it was trading above USD100.
The falling oil price has already prompted the likes of BP, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Russia’s Gazprom and China’s Cnooc to announce cuts in investment. It is occasioned, in the main, by steadily rising supply from non-OPEC countries, and especially from the US, and is, in theory at least, good news for air travellers, if and when airlines feel able to pass on any savings to their customers (assuming they are able to, they may be hedged at higher rates). Some airlines in Southeast Asia and China have already reduced their fuel price surcharge, at least.
But the other side of the industry coin is that some countries may feel the squeeze on their big ticket airport construction projects. Already, they are looking to trim them back. At the very least, smaller construction projects could be postponed or abandoned in many countries, either because the revenues to support them have been reduced or because of declining investment in neighbouring oil facilities and consequential effects on passenger traffic flows, as employees are laid off and executive travel cut back.
This could be the moment when the PPP, already gaining in popularity as a method of ensuring critical airport infrastructure is secured, makes a quantum leap - but the private sector must have confidence in its counterparts in the public arena.
The Aeroflot Group suffered a 31% drop in its operating profit and reported a net loss in 3Q2014, the seasonally strongest quarter. Although the net result was weighed down by foreign exchange movements and non-recurring items, the underlying profitability of the Group suffered due to RASK falling while CASK increased.
Demand on international routes has suffered as a result of the geopolitical backdrop, forcing Aeroflot to focus its growth in the domestic market.
Geopolitical events also led to the cessation of Aeroflot's fledgling LCC subsidiary Dobrolet in Aug-2014. However, the Group has acted rapidly in launching a new low cost venture, Pobeda, which started operating between Moscow Vnukovo and Volgograd this week.
VietJet Air is planning further expansion of its international network with Cambodia and Russia slated to become its fourth and fifth overseas markets. Vietnam’s leading low-cost carrier is also looking at launching a connection product which will enable it to compete in the broader Russia-Southeast Asia and North Asia-Southeast Asia markets.
Russia will initially be served using VietJet’s rapidly growing A320 fleet to access the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok. But VietJet has big ambitions for the Russian market using its anticipated future fleet of A330s.
The LCC sees huge potential in Russia as it is a large and fast growing source market for Vietnam’s emerging tourism industry. VietJet’s parent company also has Russian roots, which should make it easier from an access and local sales perspective.
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.