The decision of Pobeda Airlines, Russia’s only low-cost carrier, to suspend international services from Pulkovo (LED) over a conflict with the federal security authorities, is affecting St Petersburg airport’s summer plans.
The airport’s operator Northern Capital Gateway (NCG) has been unable to find replacement carriers for the abandoned routes. As a result, its international low-cost offering has shrunk to almost nothing, whilst rivals in nearby Finland are luring Russian passengers away with expanding networks of low-cost routes.
Last month Aeroflot subsidiary Pobeda announced it was suspending its entire international programme from Pulkovo, as an on-going misunderstanding over aircraft security inspection procedures consistently caused flight delays thereby seriously affecting the integrity of its schedules.
With only a few weeks and months before the next IATA summer season, NCG has been unable to attract other carriers to pick up on the abandoned routes to Cologne, Pisa and Girona, as most airlines have already finalised their summer schedules, explains NCG’s commercial director Evgeny Ilyin.
Even though the loss in Pulkovo’s overall traffic numbers may be insignificant, “this is not good news in terms of development of the [international] segment,” Ilyin admits. The airport has been counting on base carrier Rossiya Airlines, another Aeroflot subsidiary, to fill the gaps, but that airline is not launching any new destinations this summer, although it is increasing frequencies on its existing routes and is planning an overall increase in traffic numbers.
Perhaps the most significant consequence of this situation for Pulkovo is not in the loss of specific routes, but in the fact that its low-cost offering is continuing to shrink. The bankruptcy of Germania, which operated flights between St Petersburg and Dresden, was another loss for Pulkovo in January 2019. Now the only budget carrier linking Russia’s northern capital with Europe is Hungary’s WizzAir with its five-weekly summer season services to Budapest. It is also considering launching flights to London (another route abandoned by Pobeda) through its WizzAir UK subsidiary.
In the meantime, Pulkovo’s rivals in neighbouring Finland are expanding their low-cost offerings. For example, Ryanair is resuming flights from Lappeenranta to Bergamo, Berlin, Athens and Salonika in April, reports Fontanka newswire, adding that Russian travellers are among the target audience for these connections. Last year air traffic between St Petersburg and Helsinki surged 43 per cent compared to 2017, reaching 144,000 passengers. According to the Helsinki airport’s operator Finavia, the share of transit passengers through the airport is now around 35 per cent more than at Pulkovo.
Nevertheless, Pulkovo is continuing with its efforts to remain competitive, and is launching new projects to further stimulate transfer traffic. This year the airport has announced eight new routes in the summer schedule, including to five international destinations – to Olbia, Italy and Palma-de-Mallorca, Spain (S7 Airlines), Hangzhou and Fuzhou in China (iFly Airlines) and Izmir, Turkey (Sun Express).
No changes are expected in the preferences of holidaymakers this summer, with Turkey remaining the country of choice for leisure destinations. Last year 12 airlines operated flights on five routes between Pulkovo and Turkey, collectively carrying 920,000 passengers, a 27 per cent year-on-year growth. “We do not expect aggressive growth in 2019,” says Ilyin, “but we are counting on one million passengers at least.” A contributor to this trend is Turkish Airlines which is doubling its frequency to Antalya to 14 weekly flights.
In total, Pulkovo is targeting some 20 million passengers this year, a 10 per cent improvement on 2018. In January Russia’s fourth largest airport handled 1.2 million passengers, up 14 per cent year-on-year. Its domestic traffic reached 841,600 passengers (up 14.4 per cent), and the international segment grew by 13.1 per cent to 388,600 passengers.
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