During the pandemic-stricken market collapse and for the first time in the history of the country’s airline industry, S7 Airlines, Russia’s largest private air carrier, has outperformed state-owned flag carrier and undisputed market leader Aeroflot. According to Russian aviation regulator Rosaviatsiya’s preliminary statistics, S7 Airlines served 214,000 passengers in April, compared to 148,000 carried by big rival Aeroflot.
The obvious explanation for this anomaly is that, whilst the flag carrier’s primary international travel segment came to a complete standstill in late March after Russia closed its borders to stop the spread of Coronavirus, domestic operations continued, albeit at a drastically slower pace.
In total, April’s combined traffic for the nation’s carriers plunged by 91.8 per cent over the same month of last year. The aggregated cumulative effect on the first four months of 2020 was a 30 per cent decline in all passenger numbers.
S7 Airlines, which is continuing its operations from both its Moscow and Novosibirsk bases, saw its overall traffic decrease by 84.3 per cent year-on-year in April. The rate of the Coronavirus spread in Novosibirsk (west Siberia) is somewhat lower than in Moscow. In the same period, market leader Aeroflot lost 95.2 per cent of its volumes and other large airlines experienced mixed results. Utair, primarily a domestic carrier, flew 66,000 passengers, down 89.4 per cent. Aeroflot Group’s medium-segment sister business Rossiya Airlines lost 92.2 per cent of its traffic once all international and charter fights stopped. The Yekaterinburg-based Ural Airlines registered a 94 per cent decrease, serving 42,000 passengers. Finally, Aeroflot Group’s low-cost subsidiary Pobeda Airlines which, prior to Covid-19 had moved up to become Russia’s third largest airline, opted to ground its fleet and suspend all operations in April.
Combined figures show that Russia’s airlines carried some 771,000 passengers in April, a 91.8 per cent year-on-year decrease. RPKs decreased by 93.2 per cent to 1.6 billion. The decline started in March, when the industry lost 28 per cent of its traffic year-on-year. February 2020 was the last month of growth for Russian carriers.
Since the beginning of the year, Russia’s airlines served a combined total of 24 million passengers, down by 30 per cent on the same period of 2019, according to Rosaviatsiya. In Russia, as elsewhere in the world, it is the airline industry that has taken the hardest hit from the Coronavirus crisis. The Russian government promised to allocate 23.5 billion roubles (US$310 million) to the country’s airlines, but has not yet started to distribute the funds. Based on the airlines’ likely performance in June, the industry may also additionally receive some 30 billion roubles and be granted grace periods for tax and insurance payments.
As an additional support measure, the government is considering allowing airlines to reject cash refunds for ticket payments to passengers and instead offer vouchers redeemable for later date flights.
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