Russian president Vladimir Putin has once again raised the idea of the creation of a regional airline dedicated to serving the remote localities across the country’s vast territories. This time he has instructed the government to come up with a masterplan for an airline operating only Russian-made aircraft that would serve the far eastern region. The government is to define the route network for the prospective airline, forecast its potential traffic targets and identify the appropriate aircraft types and fleet before the end of this month.
The idea is not a new one. A similar, July 2012 initiative led by the then-prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, resulted in the creation of Aurora Airlines, which is owned on a 50/50 basis by Aeroflot Group and by the administration of the Sakhalin region. The airline was created off the back of the two regional carriers Vladivostok Avia and Sakhalin Airlines, both of which had previously been merged by Aeroflot Group. Aurora Airlines was to become the single entity airline serving the far east region which consists of 40 per cent of Russia’s entire territory, and as such was faced with challenging 2018 targets both in terms of route network development (128 routes) and traffic number targets (2.4 million passengers annually). But Aurora’s 2018 results fell short of the projections – it served only 1.6 million passengers and, besides, no other regional administration apart from Sakhalin contributed by volunteering to take a stake in the ‘united airline for the far east.’ Added to that, a number of existing, smaller local carriers continued their operations in their respective regions.
The latest instruction was signed by Vladimir Putin on January 14, 2020 and addressed to Dmitry Medvedev, prior to his abrupt resignation days later. Apparently, it will be the new government that will now take charge of the project. According to industry insiders, Aeroflot has already suggested using Aurora Airlines as the base for the new airline by boosting its fleet financing from the federal budget.
Rostec, the country’s aerospace and defence corporation, which controls the bulk of the nation’s aerospace manufacturing assets through United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), has expressed its support for the project, which it hopes will create additional demand for Russian-made aircraft. “[UAC is] creating a product range which covers all the key niches of domestic air travel. The 100-seat SSJ100 is serially produced and intensely operated in regions across the country, and the new version of the regional Ilyushin IL-114-300 turboprop for 50 to 68 passengers is scheduled for certification in 2022. This aircraft will replace the venerable An-24/26 on their routes,” Rostec commented to Kommersant business daily, adding that the corporation is also working on a light utility aircraft with a capacity of less than 30 seats and with its production planned for launch some time after 2022.
Not mentioned by Rostec is the L-410 twin turboprop aircraft being produced by Ural Works of Civil Aviation (not part of Rostec), which may also come in handy should the new airline indeed materialise.