Speculation is mounting in Moscow that state-controlled Aeroflot Russian International Airlines (Aria) and private operator Transaero are close to a merger.

Rumours were fuelled in early July when the rival carriers signed a cooperation deal, which envisages codesharing and joint fleet planning.

One aviation source in Moscow says initial cooperation will see the two carriers codeshare on services to Germany. Transaero currently operates to Berlin and Frankfurt, while Aria's services to seven points in Germany are understood to represent the carrier's most lucrative routes. All of Aria's German flights will be moved to terminal one at Moscow/

Sheremetyevo, which houses Transaero. Domestically, both carriers serve the same 11 cities. Coordination of flight schedules and codesharing will give them a combined market share of 30 per cent.

One source close to Aria says the two could become more closely tied, but neither carrier could be reached for comment. Airline officials have referred to a 'mystery' Moscow banker who has bought up a 'considerable' portion of the 49 per cent of Aria held by its employees. The same financier is now understood to be pursuing a financial involvement in Transaero. 'The carriers are now very close and are on the verge of being merged,' says a Moscow analyst. He suggests the Russian independent would welcome an injection of capital, and be in trouble if a recent bid to place a $40 million American Deposit Receipt failed. Tom Sanford at Bank of New York, who is understood to be the ADR agent for the airline, referred queries back to Transaero.

Mark Odell

Source: Airline Business