Posted 9 января 17:22

Published 9 января 17:22

Modified 10 января 07:01

Updated 10 января 07:01

Aviation has gone down: fewer passengers, planes and pilots

9 января 2023, 17:22
Russian airlines lost almost a quarter of their fleet in a year - planes lined up for cannibalization. Pilots are also leaving aviation - they now have "earnings below the baseboard." But the most important result: all over the world, Russia is now considered a country that can no longer ensure flight safety.

Ekaterina Maximova, Natalia Seibil

Today, the Federal Air Transport Agency happily reported: Russian airlines transported 2.26 million passengers during the New Year holidays (from January 1 to January 8), which is 11.3% more than in the same period last year. However, the results of the past year do not inspire optimism.

The forecast of the head of the Federal Air Transport Agency Alexander Neradko that by the end of 2022 the passenger turnover will amount to 100 million people has not come true. The agency closed the monthly statistics of the work of air transport after the start of its work, but according to Natalia Pyrieva, an analyst at the stock analysis department of Finam, Russian air carriers transported 88 million passengers in 11 months of last year. And this is 14% less than in the same period of 2021.

Passengers were "bought out"

Pyrieva believes that the final result of 2022 was 94-96 million people (111 million in 2021). "According to the estimates of the Ministry of Transport, if 11 Russian airports were opened, the airlines would be able to serve 19 million more passengers, and the annual passenger traffic would amount to 113.4 million people," the expert noted.

Passenger traffic of the industry leader - Aeroflot Group (Aeroflot, Pobeda, Russia) - according to the results of the first half of 2022 alone, it decreased by 7% (to 17.2 million passengers). During this period, the Group lost 14.7 million passengers on domestic routes.

Budget injections almost helped the aviators to fulfill the transportation plan. According to Alexander Neradko, 172 billion rubles were allocated from the budget for the preservation of the industry in 2022.

"These measures are aimed at supporting domestic air transportation, subsidizing programs <...> and transportation of the least protected categories of citizens <...>. Support measures have allowed maintaining the average fare level at the level of the last two years and avoiding the cost of tickets in the summer of 2022," Neradko explained. Some of the funds were received by closed airports, whose work stopped after the SVO.

Thus, 100 billion rubles were allocated only for the reimbursement of operating expenses of airlines. The budget transferred 7.5 billion rubles to closed airports.

Earlier, the Association of Air Transport Operators noted that without government billions, the annual volume of traffic would have decreased to the level of 2012 (or up to 74 million passengers).

From the data of the leading air ticket sales services, it follows that Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi became the leaders in the share of domestic flights last year. In total, more than 50% of flights were made to these cities. International transportation pulled Turkey and the CIS countries. Only Armenia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Belarus accounted for almost 50% of the tickets sold.

Takeoff is prohibited

Tatiana Fileva, co-owner and daughter of the founders of the largest Russian private airline S7, recalls that at the beginning of 2022, the fleet of Russian airlines numbered approximately 1,270 aircraft. Of these, 840 (or 67%) are foreign vessels. And Boeing and Airbus are the main "workhorses" of aviation.

By December, for various reasons, about 800 aircraft remained available to aviators. The medium-haul fleet has decreased most noticeably (from 530 to 485 aircraft), 102 long-haul aircraft remained (123 at the beginning of 2022).

The source of "Novye Izvestia" in the Federal Air Transport Agency, who wished to remain anonymous, clarified that some of the largest carriers "on the ground" now have from 15 to 30% of the fleet idle. And these planes will no longer take off - they will be disassembled into parts.

None of the airlines has announced data on the so-called cannibalization of aircraft. And according to the hero of Russia, Honored Test Pilot of the Russian Federation Alexander Garnaev, Russians will not see such statistics.

"No one will ever say that. This information does not exist in nature. Companies do this on the sly and do not report to anyone. According to my estimates, the process is going much faster than expected. It was planned that we would fly for five or six years on foreign boards, and during this time we would build our own planes. This is complete nonsense! And cannibalization is going much faster, and we will not adjust it", - commented Garnaev. 

In the sky - outside the law

The double registration of Boeing and Airbus, which remained in the fleet of aviators after the start of its own, was the reason why the International Civil Aviation Organization (hereinafter - ICAO, part of the UN structure) announced Russia's problems in the field of flight safety and ship maintenance to the whole world.

We recall that we are talking about the double registration of aircraft prohibited by Article 18 of the Chicago Convention. It states that an aircraft cannot be legally registered in more than one State.

The inability to ensure the safety of flights on ships with double registration turned into a "red flag" for Russia. ICAO uses them to inform all countries of the world. After that, as Andrey Patrakov, the founder of the international network of AIM Group experts, clarified to Novye Izvestia, any airport in the world, without explaining the reasons, referring only to the "red flag" from ICAO, can refuse to service aircraft of these states.

As Tatiana Fileva notes, an important change in 2022 was the transfer of most of the aircraft to domestic registration — as of December 2022, 1,151 aircraft were registered in the Russian registry, that is, the vast majority. At the same time, almost all of these aircraft currently remain in dual registration (both Russian and Bermuda).

Natalia Pyrieva notes that as of December 2022, 201 foreign aircraft, of which about 150 Boeing and Airbus and several dozen Embraer, Bombardier and Gulfstream, were removed from registration in the Bermuda Registry, on which airlines can now operate international flights without the risk of arrest.

"Approximately 91 unregistered aircraft are operated by the Aeroflot Group. Utair removed 36 Boeing from the Bermuda registry, Azur Air – 14 aircraft, S7 Airline - six Boeing, Aurora - three Airbus, Red Wings — three Boeing, IrAero bought one Airbus. The only major air carrier whose fleet remains in full in the Bermuda registry is Ural Airlines, which flies abroad only to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan," the expert said.

Aviators also have serious problems with flight insurance. "Either they make insurance that do not have international recognition, or they do not make them. In this case, you can lose not just directions, but also spans of territories. Let's say some country like intermediate Jordan (what is happening now with flights to Egypt) it may prohibit overflight over its territory, because those insurances that indicate are not internationally recognized," Garnaev explained.

He also noted that the issue of flight insurance is deeply hidden information.

"But there is a general picture – Russian planes are not officially provided with insurance or permits of the civilized world. Including the ICAO. Then there are small tricks, tricks. An uninsured plane can't even start the engine. This is out of the question. Another question is that insurances may be eligible or not, whether they are recognized or not. Those planes that fly are insured by companies that are not recognized in the civilized world. By someone they are recognized, by someone they are not recognized. The same CIS countries should be racking their brains: are they part of the civilized world? Do they want to go there or don't they want to?", - says Garnaev. And adds: Russia is one of the countries in which flight safety is not ensured at the state level. Hence the problems with cannibalism, with flight insurance and the reduction of flight personnel.

Pilots - on the way out

Assessing the results of the past year, Alexander Garnaev recalls that the aviation industry has lost several carriers.

"Quite a few companies have completely ceased to exist. For example, Abakan Avia, the leader of ABC air transportation (AirBridgeCargo - ed.) has completely ceased to exist, the Royal Flight company (became the first of the Russian airlines to stop all flights after its own, - ed.), where all pilots are completely dismissed. Large companies such as S7, Siberia, and Aeroflot are trying to keep the flight crew ready to fly there, but in an exceptionally humiliating way. The pilots who fly in these companies have humiliating working conditions and earnings below any baseboard that could be seen," comments Garnaev.

According to his assessment, many pilots have left Russia. "But it's still very difficult. And this is not only a material issue. When you leave, you will most likely never return to Russia. It's hard to do and it's hard to decide on it," adds the test pilot.

By plane or train?

Novye Izvestia has already asked Alexander Garnaev whether it has already become dangerous to use air transport in Russia? And this is how the Honored Test Pilot of the Russian Federation answered this question: "I can only say about myself. When I or my loved ones need to fly somewhere, I choose flights only of the airline whose state of affairs I know for sure. Moreover, I can check what kind of board it is and what kind of crew it is. I envisage the possibility of canceling the flight if I have doubts."