The Russian government is ploughing on with efforts to reduce its holdings in several airlines and is auctioning its remaining shares in three carriers - Sibir Siberia Airlines, UT Air and Omskavia.

It is expected to sell its controlling interest in Sibir, where it retains a 25% holding, including a "golden share" which gives it veto rights on any major board decisions. Following its recent take over of the country's largest domestic carrier, Vnukovo Airlines, Sibir's traffic has grown from just over 600,000 passengers in 1997 to 2.8 million in 2002.

Sibir is now the country's largest domestic carrier, overtaking Aeroflot. It has also rapidly expanded its network, with new scheduled services on 14 routes, including three to international destinations, and is preparing to take the first of several leased Airbus A320s. Sibir's shareholders include several leading energy and industrial concerns. The shares will be offered for tender early in February.

UT Air, until last October known as TyumenAviaTrans, the country's fourth largest airline, is to have the remaining government stake of 2.1% or 12 million shares with a nominal value of 20 roubles (about 60¢ each) sold off by auction in February.

Previously, UT had issued American Depository Receipts (ADRs), an indirect way of trading on the US market. Following the collapse of the Russian currency in August 1998, the ADR values fell, and two regional governments in western Siberia bought a majority holding in what airline management described as "market nationalisation".

With the airline and its helicopter division now profitable, it is expected that there will be considerable interest in these shares. The company has won valuable United Nations' contracts for helicopter services in Africa and Asia.

Omskavia, the third on the list for completion of the privatisation process, is a regional carrier based in southwest Siberia. The government holds 20% of its issued capital, and does not have a golden share. It operates 10 Tupolev Tu-154Ms, the backbone of Russia's airline services, which are its most valuable assets. The airline augments its income by leasing surplus aircraft out in Iran. Its shares are being auctioned by the regional office of the Ministry of State Property.

At the beginning of 2002, the Russian government retained a whole or partial shareholding in 82 of the 267 air operators in the country, while three others were wholly or partially owned by regional governments or municipal authorities.

The two major companies still substantially in state control include the country's largest carrier Aeroflot-Russian Airlines, in which the state has a 51.6% stake. The country's third largest operator, St Petersburg-based Pulkovo Aviation Enterprise, remains 100% owned by the central and regional governments.

Source: Airline Business