Russian air travel is taking off

newsletter 01/03/2018

In 2017 all-time peak of air passengers number was recorded: 105 mln passengers.

Transfer intensity and passenger traffic volume are indicative of the country’s economic climate and human wellbeing. When there is an economic downturn, demand for air tickets drops – first for holiday trips being a product of deferred demand, and then for business flights.

105 mln travelers used Russian airports in 2017, that is by 15,4% higher than in 2016. Speaking about the Soviet period, the highest number of passengers was recorded in 1990 – 91 mln, and then there was a reduction up to 1999 when airports have served only 22 mln people. As the GDP grew, the positive dynamics of air carriage was restored but fall under crisis of 2008 and 2015-2016 though (see Picture 1).

Following the results of January 2018, air companies transferred 13,5% more passengers than in January 2017: 7,5 mln and 6,5 mln respectively. If the trend of growth continues this year, increase in annual rate up to 119 mln people should be expected.

Picture 1. Number of passengers transferred by air transport in Russia, mln people Picture 1. Number of passengers transferred by air transport in Russia, mln people

Increased ridership is beneficial to ratings of key airports in the RF. Top-10 of the largest air harbors record a considerable increase in the number of served passengers (arrived and departured). However, airport in Simferopol became an exception with a small decrease to the level of 2016 that can be explained by resumed flights to Turkey after a one-year ban.

Vnukovo Airport demonstrated the highest increase (30,1% up to 18,1 mln passengers) and became the 3rd in the top. Koltsovo in Yekaterinburg also made a huge dynamics: plus 26% up to 5,4 mln. St. Petersburg Pulkovo Airport increased transfer by 21,6% up to 16,1 mln people.

Sheremetyevo, the leading air gate of Russia, is the first among all domestic airports to surpass the mark of 40 mln arrived and departured passengers. This figure allowed the airport to become 11th in Europe and be included in Top-50 of major hub airports of the world. For reference: being the largest airport in the Old World, London Heathrow served 78 mln people in 2017; Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (the USA), the world’s only airport with ridership over 100 mln passengers per year, served 104 mln.

All Top-10 airports placed all-time high number of served passengers, excluding Domodedovo with record 33 mln in 2014 and Simferopol with 5,2 mln in 2016 and 1991.

Because of growth in demand for travels, airline and routs network is expectedly growing. Table 1 contains information about flights that will be opened this spring. From Sheremetyevo since March 1, 2018 Air Arabia will transfer to Sharjah (UAE). Flights to Casablanca will be voyaged by Royal Air Maroc from March 26 from Domodedovo. Flight map from Pulkovo is significantly grown: London, Pisa, Pula, Teheran, Alicante, Izmir, Chongqing – here is a partial list of routes to be opened in spring. Like capital air hubs, regional airports also developed new points of destination.

Table 1. The largest airports of Russia by the number of served passengers (arrived and departured) and new air travel destinations of spring 2018
Position in Russia (Europe) Airport Number of served passengers in 2017, mln people Growth rate of number of served passengers to 2016, % Air company and new destinations of spring 2018
Air company Destination Starting date
1 (11) Sheremetyevo (Moscow) 40,1 17,8 Aeroflot Saransk 01.05
Air Arabia Sharjah (UAE) 01.03
Cobalt Air Larnaca (Cyprus) 26.03
Ellinair Chania (Greece) 29.04
Kavala (Greece) 28.05
Rhodes (Greece) 30.05
Ural Airlines Simferopol 25.03
2 (13) Domodedovo (Moscow) 30,7 7,6 Aegean Airlines Kerkyra (Greece) 28.04
Royal Air Maroc Casablanca (Morocco) 26.03
S7 Airlines Tenerife (Spain) 26.04
Saratov airlines Krasnoyarsk 27.04
3 (31) Vnukovo (Moscow) 18,1 30,1 Pobeda Kaliningrad 26.03
Innsbruck (Austria) 02.03
Utair Kaluga 07.03
Azimut Grozny 01.05
4 (34) Pulkovo (Saint-Petersburg) 16,1 21,6 Rossiya Airlines London (Great Britain) 25.03
Air Malta Malta (Malta) 30.03
Germania Dresden (Germany) 26.04
I-Fly Antalya (Turkey) 27.05
Iran Air Teheran (Iran) 25.03
Pobeda Gyumri (Armenia) 18.04
Naberezhnye Chelny 27.03
Tbilisi (Georgia) 28.03
S7 Airlines Alicante (Spain) 28.04
Barcelona (Spain) 27.04
Perm 30.04
Pisa (Italy) 27.03
Pula (Croatia) 27.05
SunExpress Izmir (Turkey) 18.05
Tianjin Airlines Chongqing (China) 01.04
Ural Airlines Frankfurt (Germany) 26.03
Utair Kaluga 02.04
5 Sochi 5,7 8,0 airBaltic Riga (Latvia) 14.05
Ural Airlines Moscow 25.03
Utair Kaluga 03.04
6 Koltsovo (Yekaterinburg) 5,4 26,0 Air Moldova Kishinev (Moldova) 28.04
Corendon Airlines Antalya (Turkey) 01.05
Pobeda Krasnodar 25.03
Ural Airlines Moscow 25.03
Bologna (Italy) 21.04
7 Simferopol 5,1 -1,4 Ural Airlines Moscow 25.03
Rostov-on-Don 26.05
8 Tolmachevo (Novosibirsk) 5,0 22,2 I-Fly Antalya (Turkey) 28.05
S7 Airlines Beloyarskiy 03.05
Kazan 29.04
Kogalym 02.05
Minsk (Belarus)
Nadym 01.05
Pavlodar (Kazakhstan) 30.05
Samara 27.04
Tbilisi (Georgia) 28.04
Globus Airlines Larnaca (Cyprus) 01.05
9 Pashkovsky (Krasnodar) 3,5 17,0 Ellinair Kerkyra (Greece) 28.05
Pobeda Yekaterinburg 25.03
Turkish Airlines Istanbul (Turkey) 08.05
Utair Kaluga 01.04
10 Ufa 2,8 21,4 S7 Airlines Novosibirsk 26.04

Aviation service market is an indicator of situation in economy, because recession has a negative impact on air transfer too. Under crisis, air companies continue to operate due to the government or “rich” shareholders support. Private air companies are profitable only at increasing demand, working with numbers and developing new routes. That is confirmed by Transaero, formerly the second domestic carrier, failed after the rouble devaluation and dramatic reduction in overseas trips.

Expanding flight geography, our air harbors could be a part of the global market and eventually become not air hubs focused mainly on local tourism, but transnational transit hubs. Development of domestic destinations, sometimes being lossmaking, is mandatory condition for economic growth, because such a huge state as Russia cannot be connected together without it.