Budget airlines Ryanair, EasyJet and Wizz Air to exploit St Petersburg’s open-skies regime

Pulkovo Last year, Pulkovo handled a total of seven million international passengers (Pulkovo)

In a not unexpected move following the agreement of the Russian government to introduce a partial open-skies regime over St Petersburg’s Pulkovo (LED) airport, three major European low-cost carriers (LCCs) have expressed their interest in opening flights to Russia’s fourth busiest airport using the region’s new-found seventh-freedom traffic rights.

Ryanair, Europe’s largest LCC, as well as rivals EasyJet and Wizz Air, all presented their wish-lists in August to the airport’s operator Northern Capital Gateway (NCG), the company’s head Leonid Sergeev told RBC Russian business newswire.

“These carriers will help us to attract up to six million [additional] tourists annually into St Petersburg by 2025,” Sergeev said, adding that, in another development, one CIS airline is interested in opening direct long-haul flights from Pulkovo to the USA. “What you have to understand is that these carriers expressed their intentions before the official announcement [about the introduction of the open-skies regime]. Their actual real demand could be much higher.”

Last year, Pulkovo handled a total of seven million international passengers and during the first six months of this year international traffic numbers reached 3.2 million.

Russia’s transport ministry has pre-approved about a dozen of 33 routes proposed by NCG for the so-called seventh-freedom traffic rights, which allow airlines to carry passengers or cargo between two foreign countries without any continuing service to/from the carrier’s own base country. For example, an Irish airline could launch flights between St Petersburg and Paris, without the need to transit Dublin.

According to the preliminary plans, the foreign LCCs are planning to operate flights to Pulkovo year-round, with 60 per cent of flights operated in the summer season and 40 per cent during the winter. Previously, industry experts have pointed out that the local market may become exceedingly crowded in the summer whilst carriers would abandon the routes during the winter months – leaving state-owned Aeroflot and Rossiya Airlines as two resident carriers forced to stay. Thus, the Russian carriers would suffer from a revenue drop in the summer and face losses in the low seasons.

Pulkovo expects that, as a result of the open-skies regime, by 2025 the major traffic growth will come from Germany (514,000 passengers), France (496,000), the UK (375,000), Italy (357,000) and Spain (375,000).

by Ivan Volodin

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