Paul Duffy/MOSCOW Jens Flottau/MOSCOW

Passenger traffic figures for Russia's many airlines reveal that most suffered a significant decline last year, with Aeroflot Russian International Airlines one of the few to have bucked the trend. The flag carrier reported an increase in emplanements and claims to have returned a profit, albeit according to Russian accounting standards.

Aeroflot's chief executive and general director, Valery Okulov, says "preliminary figures"' show the carrier made a profit of $10-12 million last year, and suggests that his airline was the only one in the country to do so. Aeroflot is one of only three Russian carriers to have revealed any detail of financial performance in 1998. Transaero admitted to losing Rb355 million ($16.7 million at end of year exchange rates) - 5% down on 1997 - on turnover of Rb1.9 billion, and Sibir reported a 10% increase in turnover from $102 million.

For most Russian carriers, the picture was bleaker, with the Russian market shrinking by at least 10% compared with 1997, leaving traffic volumes at just 25% of 1990 levels. Against this background Aeroflot's 14% increase in traffic seems impressive, although the airline admits that its load factor fell by 1.5 points to 59%.

Most Russian carriers are reluctant to reveal statistics, and are supported by the country's Federal Aviation Services (FAS), which says that most data are a matter of state and commercial security. Some traffic figures have been disclosed by the country's Air Transport Operator's Association, however, with four of the 12 airlines for which a 1997/8 comparison is possible exhibiting a fall in traffic.

The FAS reports that Russian airlines carried 22.38 million passengers last year compared with 90.7 million carried by the Russian divisions of Aeroflot in 1990. Last year initially showed signs of improvement, with only a slight fall in the first seven months.

August's financial collapse scuppered any recovery, however, sending passenger figures tumbling.

The first two months of 1999 saw a further fall, while cargo traffic has also suffered - the 459t carried in 1998 was just 76% of the 1997 figure.

For Aeroflot, Okulov says, the key aim this year is to develop international alliances, although the carrier's aims are inevitably modest; discussions with British Airways have focused merely on improving interlining at Moscow Sheremetyevo II. Aeroflot slashed international services last year, but now plans new routes.

Okulov warns that its financial performance is "directly linked to political stability". The Kosovo crisis has already caused it to lower its 5 million passenger target for 1999.

Source: Flight International