Direct passenger traffic from China to St. Petersburg may increase some 40% this year, to an estimated 140,000-150,000 passengers, according to what CCO Yevgeniy Ilyin of Northern Capital Gateway (NCG, the consortium which manages the city’s Pulkovo Airport) told Russian Aviation Insider. The growth is expected to offset the plunging international traffic trend, which has been plaguing Russian airline industry for over a year.
The traffic growth stems from the growing interest of Chinese tourists in visiting St. Petersburg, Ilyin explained. “Chinese travel agencies are becoming ever more active on the Russian market. We as an airport are applying all our efforts to ensure they fly directly to and from St. Petersburg, and not via Moscow as they have traditionally.”
The first figure to grow was the number of direct charter flights, which are usually filled up almost entirely by Chinese citizens. “We’ve already got five weekly charters confirmed for this season—three from Shanghai and two from Beijing—which are expected to arrive fully loaded. Moreover, according to our estimates, the market hasn’t reached saturation yet. We’re well into May already, but Chinese tourism features short planning—charters may be formed in as little as two weeks,” Ilyin said.
Regular airlines are also increasing their frequencies on the destinations to China. There’s a new carrier in Pulkovo’s schedule, China Eastern. Rossiya Airlines has also reserved a slot for flights to Beijing, but it doesn’t currently possess the long-haul aircraft necessary to operate the route.
Apart from China, several more new destinations appeared in Pulkovo’s summer schedule, both international (Oslo, Batumi, Rimini, Zagreb and Belgrade) and domestic. NCG forecasts that the tendency of international traffic’s steep decline will level out this year, despite the 6% decrease in the first quarter. Traffic to several destinations that have been trying to replace Turkey and Egypt as places for Russian tourists to visit has now started showing signs of growth.
“The Q1 year-on-year decrease is explained by the fact that in the winter of 2015 the crisis had not yet taken its toll on the international destinations because people made their vacation plans in advance. So, compared to that period, January’s traffic results showed a decrease this year. However, in the summer of last year, many charters were cancelled and the purchasing power shrank, so this year we should see a level off,” Yevgeniy Ilyin said.
On domestic routes, the average annual 11% growth rate is expected to continue into this year.
In total, Pulkovo’s operator is counting on the traffic to reach, or exceed, 13 milion passengers. This is not sufficient to launch the next stage of the airport’s ambitious development project. “The first stage of the construction has been completed. The second phase implies expansion of sterile zone by construction of additional fingers. The next stage then would be erection of a domestic passenger terminal in front of the Pulkovo-1,” Ilyin explained. He said the construction would start only when the airport has reached certain operational targets, so no exact date can be given. The existing terminal’s capacity is 18 million passengers, well above the current traffic figures.
To attract additional traffic the airport is persisting in its efforts to solicit a 72-hour visa-free grace period for air passengers arriving at Pulkovo.
Russian Aviation Insider
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