Russia’s regional hub at the crossroads of Europe and Asia
Yekaterinburg’s Koltsovo Airport (IATA code: SVX) is set to become one of Aeroflot’s new regional hubs. The airport, which is located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, is already one of Russia’s leaders in terms of transit passenger traffic and, given the attraction of the Sverdlovsk region both for tourism and business, the further development of hub operations is sure to generate additional passenger flows and provide growth opportunities for the airport and for its airline customers.
Notably, the airport has been on a continuous modernisation path over the last decade, firstly undergoing a thorough upgrade in the lead-up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, for which Yekaterinburg served as a host city. Now the airport is gearing up for The Summer Universiade 2023, the world student games, which is another large-scale international sporting occasion.
Beyond those events, Yekaterinburg’s unique geographic position at the crossroads of Europe and Asia already makes it attractive for both domestic and international travellers, further reasons which pave the way for additional infrastructure development.
The increasing popularity of domestic tourism fosters development of airport infrastructure and creates growth opportunities for airlines’ performance indicators. Notably, in May, president Vladimir Putin instructed the Russian airline industry to offer direct connections linking Russia’s regions, where 50 per cent of flights should not use Moscow airports. Thus, Russian airlines have been searching for opportunities to realise new development strategies.
Aeroflot has already taken on the challenge of implementing the presidential programme by opening new bases in key Russian regions, and Yekaterinburg’s Koltsovo is on the list. In line with its new development strategy up to 2023, Yekaterinburg, Sochi and Novosibirsk have been selected as the airline’s new regional strongholds across Russia, whilst Krasnoyarsk will serve as an international hub.
Koltsovo’s mission is to become Aeroflot’s anchor point on routes between European Russia and its ‘Asian’ part. In general, Aeroflot Group plans on doubling its traffic within the next five years, from 50.1 million in 2017 to 90 or 100 million passengers in 2023.
Yekaterinburg’s appeal for domestic tourism
Yekaterinburg is one of Russia’s major industrial, economic and cultural centres, and its unique geographic location makes it an appealing destination for Russian travellers. Being the capital of the Ural mountains region, it holds attraction both for its extreme sports opportunities and also for its rich historic legacy. Although the region enjoys a well-developed system of railway connections, it is air transport that holds the greatest potential for generating new traveller flows.
SVX as a regional hub
Serving the large regional city on the edges of Europe and Asia, Koltsovo airport, which is part of the Airports of Regions holding, handled some 6.1 million passengers in 2018, a solid 13 per cent improvement on the previous year. Of this number, more than four million were domestic travellers, traffic figures that rank the airport as the sixth largest in Russia. Passenger numbers on flights inside Russia – excluding Moscow – showed a 22 per cent growth having exceeded 1.8 million. This is precisely the segment which powered the airport’s impressive growth rate last year, and also explains why Koltsovo is charged with the mission of evolving into a regional, not international, hub in Aeroflot’s overall development plans.
SVX is already one of Russia’s leading airports in terms of transfer passenger flows. In 2018, transfer traffic exceeded 420,000 passengers, surging by 28 per cent on 2017’s results. The bulk of this transfer traffic is generated by airlines serving those domestic routes which link Russia’s eastern part with cities in the south and regional centres across the country. The past summer holiday season brought a significant rise on routes to domestic leisure destinations. For instance, traffic numbers on routes to the resort cities on the Black Sea increased by approximately 30 per cent (Simferopol by 52 per cent, Sochi 33, Gelendzhik 21, and Mineralnye Vody 124 per cent) reaching 233,000 passengers. Koltsovo’s domestic route network, which is among the widest in Russia, includes more than 40 destinations. Apart from Moscow, St Petersburg and the Black Sea resorts, the most popular destinations in 2018 were Novosibirsk, Krasnodar, Blagoveshchensk, Rostov and Samara.
Meanwhie, Koltsovo’s base carrier Ural Airlines is developing international transit business between China and Europe. But since Aeroflot is planning to use the airport for domestic connections, it does not foresee stiff competition with the base airline. On the contrary, the airport will have a balanced traffic flow both in domestic and international segments. Aeroflot, in turn, will benefit from Koltsovo’s existing capabilities for unravelling its hub operations.
Other favourable factors for the airline’s development plans are the human potential of the Sverdlovsk region, the population of which amounted to 4.3 million people in 2018, according to Russia’s statistics service. Koltsovo has been included in the Transport ministry’s federal programme for transport infrastructure development.
Is Yekaterinburg ready to be a hub airport?
Above all, Koltsovo is always willing to change. Founded in 1928 as a military airfield, it served its first civil flights in 1943. Located just 20 km from downtown Yekaterinburg, it now serves commercial aviation only. In the lead-up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Koltsovo had its runway fully renovated and its aprons widened to accommodate additional parking lots for aircraft. Now, in advance of the 2023 World Student Games, Yekaterinburg is making great efforts to upgrade its urban amenities, including local transport infrastructure. For example, the city administration is reviewing the option of extending the municipal electric trains line to link Koltsovo with the railway station and the stadiums hosting the events. Thus, transfer passengers will have even more options for sightseeing while waiting for their connection flights, which in turn offers new opportunities for business development.
Is Koltsovo technically ready for hub operations?
Technically, Koltsovo is already a promising place. It has two Class B runways, the airfield is classified as ICAO 4E and has both passenger and cargo aprons. The cargo apron has been expanded to fit two wide-body aircraft the size of An-124 or a Boeing 747-400F, and the passenger apron has parking spaces for 72 aircraft. The renovated runway and expanded aprons has boosted the airfield’s capacity to 40 aircraft movements per hour, for both runways.
According to the OAG Punctuality League rating, in July 2019, Koltsovo ranked 14th among Russian airline customers and 334th globally, with a 90.5 per cent punctuality rate. High punctuality rates for an airport which is on the verge of transforming into a regional hub are not merely a matter of presenting a good public image, but are a prerequisite for the successful implementation of its plans, since hub operations depend, amongst other things, on the correct distribution of time slots. Any delay increases the risks of major distortions to flight schedules, threatening the possibility of a collapse. Notably, Aeroflot’s Yekaterinburg flights regularity in the first half of 2019 was 94.3 per cent.
As part of its improved operational efficiency effort, Koltsovo is renewing and expanding its ground handling equipment fleet. In August it added four self-propelled mobile passenger stairs.
Thus, there are all many conditions in place for Aeroflot to set up hub operations at Koltsovo and provide efficient connections between the European part of Russia and its eastern regions. Vital for the airline, the airport also has adequate expansion potential. In January 2018 it prolonged its land rent agreement for a large piece of ground adjacent to the airfield, which may in the future be used for the construction of a new passenger terminal, if at some point it becomes necessary to separate domestic and international passenger flows.
KOLTSOVO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT MILISTONES
Part of the Airport of Regions holding, is one of the largest airports in Russia by passenger traffic numbers
Member of Airports Council International
100 destinations: 67 Russian and international airline customers
Koltsovo, which is the international airport serving Yekaterinburg and the Sverdlovsk region, is located 16 km south-east of downtown Yekaterinburg, which is the largest administrative, cultural, scientific and educational centre of the Urals region.
For the 15 years up to 2015, Koltsovo was Russia’s fifth largest airport by annual traffic, behind only Moscow’s three airports and St Petersburg. It has now slid down to sixth, giving way to Sochi. In 2018 Koltsovo handled more than 6.1 million passengers.
The airport is managed by the PAO Koltsovo Airport company, which is part of a large Russian airport holding Airports of Regions, a subsidiary of the Renova Group.
Yekaterinburg is Russia’s fourth most populous city after Moscow, St Petersburg and Novosibirsk and is one of Russia’s top-three most developed post-industrial urban agglomerations.
The city has become one of the world’s largest economic centres, it is on the list of the world’s 600 largest cities accountable for 60 per cent of the global GDP. It is also one of the largest logistics clusters in Russia with an international airport, the Trans-Siberian railway and six federal highways.
In this year, the biggest upgrade in the modern history of the airport was completed, with the airport receiving two new terminals, an air navigation complex, a railway station, hotel and business facilities and a business aviation terminal. The total floor area of the terminal complex reached more than 80,000 square metres, and its annual capacity reached eight million passengers.
By 2012, the Ural region’s largest freight processing terminal became operational at Koltsovo and an international mail-processing centre has been operational since 2013. Today Yekaterinburg enjoys one of Russia’s most upgraded logistics facilities with 19,000 square-metres of space and the capability of processing up to 575 tonnes of cargo per day. The cargo terminal is adjacent to the airport’s freighter aircraft parking area, which can accept the Boeing 747, the world’s most popular cargo aircraft. In 2018, Koltsovo handled 26,200 tonnes of freight, with the main cargo destinations being Moscow, Amsterdam and Harbin.
Koltsovo International Airport successfully completed its IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO) this year, thereby once again proving its conformity to recognised minimum international safety standards. The certificate was first awarded to the airport four years ago.
Renewal of the ISAGO certificate helps increase Koltsovo’s competitiveness, paving the way for further partnerships with the world’s leading airlines and promoting its ground handling capabilities. The ISAGO certification list includes only a few select Russian airports, all of which have to renew their certificates once every two years.
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