Aeroflot – Russian Airlines is the national carrier and the largest airline in the Russian Federation. It is based out of Sheremetyevo International Airport, Moscow. The airline started operations in the year 1923 being one of the oldest airlines in the world. It has made steady progress since its inception in its fleet growth and its footprint across the world.
The airline was established after the then Soviet Union government designed an action plan to declare sovereignty over its airspace.
The first operation was restricted to mail service between Moscow and Konigsberg using a Fokker F.III. Subsequently, in 1924, the airline started passenger operations from Moscow after the government approved the expansion of the airline.
In 1933, the communist regime at the helm of affairs for civil aviation in the Soviet Union set out development plans to expand its operations across today’s Russia linking all major cities using the Douglas DC-3 and Tupolev ANT-35. Post World War II, the government began to modernize and build lasting airport infrastructure that would later do wonders for the airline allowing them to introduce bigger aircraft. In the 1960s, Aeroflot introduced Tupolev TU-144, a turboprop-powered aircraft, once the largest and the fastest airliner in the world. Not to forget, it also had the longest range – about 7000 nm. The airline expanded rapidly from the 1970s purchasing the best jets at that time and carrying over 100 million passengers in 1976.
In the early 1990s, the Soviet Union underwent massive political turbulence resulting in the dissolution of the state. Former states declared independence and formed their airlines. Russia being the largest state took control of Aeroflot and renamed it as Aeroflot – Russian International Airlines. The airline once had over 5000 aircraft in its fleet, which dropped to 115 in 1996.
Since its rebranding post-Soviet era, the company has been prioritizing to build trust among passengers on safety and reliability. Slowly but steadily they started replacing Soviet-built jets with Western-built jets. Airbus A320 family aircraft were introduced for short-haul routes while Boeing 767s and Airbus A330s for long-haul routes. In April 2006, the airline joined the SkyTeam alliance to widen its reach across the globe.
Aeroflot also had ambitions like all other airlines to run low-cost carriers. Albeit in 2014 the LCC Dobrolet (owned by Aeroflot) started operations, it quickly closed down after declaring bankruptcy owing to financial difficulties. However, the airline has been consistently aiming to modernize its fleet and in 2007 it ordered 22 Airbus A-350s comprising eight -800s and 14 -900s.
In 2010 the Russian president Vladimir Putin informed the Aeroflot CEO that if the airline wished to dominate the country’s civil aviation market then it had to use Russian-made jets. Since then the airline has been placing orders for locally-made Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ 100) and Irkut MC-21-300.
Effect of COVID-19
Due to the novel Coronavirus, Aeroflot is looking at grounding its fleet by one-fourth of its strong 247 aircraft. The airline has already paused services to certain destinations globally in the wake of the virus. The airline’s press release on 14th March said, “Aeroflot has extended the period for passengers to rebook or request refunds at no additional cost, following an increase in call volumes to the airline’s contact center regarding refunds and rebookings for tickets for flights to China, South Korea, Iran, Israel, Italy, Germany, France and Spain that have been canceled as a result of the epidemiological situation.”
The global aviation market is currently on a downhill and with the market share of international traffic for Aeroflot being 52 percent, the on-going ban is likely affecting much of its fleet. The airline is yet to come up with a COVID-19 plan of action to sustain the airline’s financial viability and keep it aircraft flying.