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The Russian air transport market saw a reshuffle of major carriers

All Russian airlines together carried 45.1 million people in 2009, meaning that the Russian market lost about 10% of customers during the year - precisely as industry officials had predicted it would. Air travel in Russia is still a far cry from mass transit, and carriers here are smaller than foreign operators.  The market slump hit some Russian air carriers hard, but at the same time it gave others a chance to strengthen their standing. One consequence of this was a reshuffle in the top five of Russia’s largest carriers. This has led to confusion, with several major airlines claiming leadership in certain categories.
It all depends on how you count. Aeroflot still leads the pack in passenger kilometers flown and passengers carried on domestic and international routes. In both these categories it is closely followed by Transaero, which managed to wrest the second best place in total passengers carried (domestically and internationally) from S7 Airlines. It should be noted, however, that S7 had earlier reassigned part of its route network to the charter subsidiary Globus. Together they carried 5.6 million passengers last year, against Transaero’s 5 million. Globus also became one of the fastest growing airlines, increasing the number of passengers flown by 77% over 12 months from the previous year’s 596,000 people.
Aeroflot last year beat the 2008 champion S7 to the first place in passenger kilometers flown on domestic routes, but S7 retained its leadership in the number of passengers carried domestically (with Aeroflot becoming the second best). UTair Aviation came third in both categories. The lead between the top three airlines in terms of domestic passenger traffic was quite tight: S7 carried 3.456 million, against Aeroflot’s 3.342 million and UTair’s 3.246 million. Unlike the former two carriers, UTair last year managed to increase the number of passengers carried, securing a firm fourth position in combined domestic and international passengers carried ahead of Rossiya Airlines. Rossiya maintained its fourth place in passenger kilometers flown, but only just – if UTair keeps its current pace it may well overtake and become fourth best this year.
The figures for international traffic are also instructive. Here, last year’s three leaders were predictably Aeroflot, Transaero and Rossiya – but the second part of the charts offered some surprises. For example, Orenair held to its fourth place by carrying 1.373 million passengers on international routes – a whopping 64% improvement on the 2008 results. For Orenair this became a further step towards strengthening its position in the tourist charter sector.
VIM Airlines came fifth, which is a neat result considering that its international passenger numbers shrank from 1.308 million in 2008 to 1.223 million. That this airline managed to move one place up and overtake S7 in the process was due to much greater traffic contractions suffered by its rivals. The eighths place went to charter start-up NordWind. The carrier does not disclose the number of passengers it carried in 2009, but its position in the rating indicates that the figure must have been somewhere between 830,000 and 1.12 million. Atlant-Soyuz, which used to hold a significant share of the charter market, saw its passenger numbers dip to 827,000 in 2009 from the previous year’s 1.388 million. The drop resulted from the retirement of the airline’s fleet of Ilyushin Il-86s, which had been actively used on Egyptian and Turkish routes, and also because Atlant-Soyuz had ditched its earlier plan to change its business strategy and join the proposed state-owned supercarrier Rosavia. The end of 2009 saw the resumption of growth in global air passenger numbers, as is evident from IATA statistics. A similar trend was observed on the Russian market. However, both Russian and international airlines remain cautious in their forecasts. Most industry sources hope that the year ahead will turn out to be at least not worse than 2009, and that the number of passengers will either stay the same or even grow.    

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