In a video conference call with Russian president Vladimir Putin dedicated to the support of local airline and aircraft industries, Vitaly Saveliev, the general director of the nation’s flag carrier Aeroflot, asked the government to consider relaxing the passenger quarantine measures currently imposed in the Russian regions.
Saveliev pointed out that passengers are reluctant to fly from Moscow because, on arrival, they are then subjected to the mandatory 14-day quarantine, according to a report carried in Vedomosti business daily. Industry experts believe, that whilst this measure is hindering demand, air travel will quickly revive once it is softened.
Stringent quarantine measures for all Moscow arrivals have been imposed by local administrations in many of Russia’s regions. As of May 15, Moscow was still the epicentre of Russia’s Coronavirus pandemic, with the official number of cases there close to half of the country’s entire total of 262,843. Arriving passengers are obliged to stay at home for 14 days, and visitors with no permanent address in the region must stay in dedicated isolators – in some cases set up in hotels or resorts, for which the visitor has to pay. Among the 30 regions that have adopted this approach are the key summer Black Sea resort destinations of Krasnodar, Sochi and Crimea, as well as large cities such as Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Kazan, Ufa, Samara and others.
Saveliev asked the president to instruct the appropriate authorities to re-assess the relevance of their quarantine measures and also come up with proposals for their gradual uplifting.
Russia’s relevant authority – the Federal Service for Oversight in Consumer Protection (Rospotrebnadzor) – responded by reminding that the quarantine measures are in the jurisdiction of the regional administrations. Anna Popova, the head of Rospotrebnadzor, announced in late April that, from May 11, regions may start softening these measures, subject to Rospotrebnadzor’s final approval.
Formally, there are no restrictions on air travel within Russia, but shrinking demand, partly due to the quarantine requirements, has meant that Russian airlines’ traffic reduced 12-fold year-on-year in April, to 771,200 passengers. International travel has been suspended since late March.
Aeroflot has taken a really hard blow, since its business focus is primarily on international travel and flights from Moscow. In April, for the first time in the history of Russian commercial aviation, the state-owned flag carrier was surpassed by privately owned rival S7 Airlines which, besides Moscow, operates a couple of dozen flights from its west Siberian Novosibirsk home. As Aeroflot saw its traffic plummet 20-fold, S7 Airlines registered only a five-fold reduction.
“Uplifting of the quarantine measures in the regions is a fundamental precondition for the revival of air travel,” stresses Boris Rybak, general director of Infomost Consulting. “No-one in their right mind will fly to Sochi, Crimea or Tatarstan, knowing that they’ll then have to be quarantined for 14 days. Once these measures are loosened, the demand [for air travel] will start to pick up,” he predicts.
In the hope that this scenario plays out, after two months of grounding, Aeroflot Group’s low-cost carrier Pobeda and charter leisure airline Azur Air have already announced the re-launch of some services from June 1. Before the crisis, the latter previously offered only international charter services, but is now planning its first scheduled domestic services to the key leisure destination of Sochi from five cities across Russia.
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