Russia and Germany clash over night-stops

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German and Russian aviation regulators are locked in a dispute over the capacities of Lufthansa and Aeroflot on routes between the two countries.

Two weeks ago Germany banned Aeroflot from conducting daily evening services to Munich in apparent retaliation for a decision by Russia’s State Agency for Civil Aviation (SACA) which had earlier refused to allow Lufthansa to have overnight stops in Moscow Sheremetyevo airport. These would have enabled the German carrier to provide early morning services from Moscow.       

Deputy transport minister Pavel Rozhkov explains: “We turned down Lufthansa’s application [for stopovers in Sheremetyevo] because otherwise it would have gained a privilege enjoyed by Aeroflot in its home airport.”

He stresses the importance of early morning departures to win business traffic in particular, saying it is worldwide practice for carriers based at airports to secure those slots.

SACA has offered Lufthansa three alternatives. One suggests that it choose any other time for a stopover in Sheremetyevo except night. The carrier could also consider carrying out an additional evening service to Moscow with the same day return to Germany. Finally, it could opt for some other airport in the Moscow region for overnight stops. “But the German side has rejected all three options and taken action against Aeroflot,” says Rozhkov.

Aeroflot’s direct losses have already totalled around $100,000 because a lot of tickets for the cancelled evening flights to Munich had been sold well in advance. The airline is now offering passengers flights with earlier departures and has allocated bigger capacity aircraft for these services.

Lufthansa claims that it has played no role in the German retaliatory move. According to the carrier’s Moscow office, the measure was a result of Russia’s refusal to approve three additional Moscow-Munich evening services. “We hope that aviation authorities of the two countries will eventually reach an agreement satisfying both sides,” says a Lufthansa spokesman.  

Rozhkov declines to elaborate on whether SACA and its German counterpart plan to conduct further negotiations about solving the problem.

Analysts in Moscow believe that, to be successful, such talks cannot focus only on that situation. One says: “They will have to address a broader range of issues up to renegotiating the bilateral air agreement, given the current disparity in the amount of services provided by carriers on routes between the two countries.”

At present, Lufthansa operates 71 weekly flights to seven Russian destinations. Aeroflot offers 63 flights to five German cities where it has no overnight stops. But in addition, seven other Russian airlines fly between 20 and 26 weekly services to Germany.