London-based executives of Aeroflot have been looking at possible bases in Europe after deciding earlier this year not to proceed with the acquisition of Virgin Express (Ireland).

The Russian airline discussed the acquisition of the Shannon base of Belgian low-cost carrier Virgin Express as a short-cut to setting up a European operation. Negotiations reportedly ended after Aeroflot declined to get involved in a bidding contest for the airline - although this came to nothing and the Irish unit subsequently closed.

A report on Aeroflot's European strategy has been completed and presented to the board, recommending that a new company be set up and based in Shannon. It is understood that a decision would be made as early as the September board meeting.

If approved, the operation would be a joint venture between Aeroflot and an international group of business partners. Ireland was chosen due to its long association with Aeroflot. The Irish Minister of Public Enterprise, Mary O'Rourke, has already had talks with a delegation from Aeroflot and declared her support for the project.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) is believed to see "no difficulty" in an Irish/Aeroflot joint venture "provided European Union laws are followed". This would mean that at least 51% of the capital must be owned by European Union citizens or companies. The IAA has experience with Aeroflot, as the Russian airline operated two Boeing 767-300ERs from 1994-9 leased from GE Capital Aviation Services and registered in Ireland.


The initial stage of the plan envisages the operation of two Boeing 737s on daily flights from European cities to Moscow and then on to a Middle East or southern European destination. The start of services will depend on when a go-ahead is given. If the green light is given by early October, flights could begin by the middle of 2002.

Source: Flight International