Russian airlines carried 6% more passengers in 2002 than the previous year, amid indications the industry may be on the verge of a period of sustained profitability.

A total of 26.5 million passengers were carried by Russia's airlines, including 11 million on international routes, according to Russia's state service of civil aviation (GSGA). Overall passenger traffic rose 7% to 64.6 billion revenue passenger kilometres, while cargo volume was up 3%.

GSGA head Aleksandr Neradko says the increase "can be explained by the stabilisation of Russian economics", coupled with the fact that last year was "the second recently when the whole of civil aviation was profitable". He believes traffic will continue to grow in 2003, but the increase will come mainly from short domestic sectors.

The Russian government plans to support regional airlines that "maintain non-profitable flights to remote destinations". Up to 70% of Russian territory is served only by air transport. Carriers operating "social" flights will also be rewarded by the GSGA with licences to operate more lucrative routes.

In the Russian Far East last year the federal budget provided subsidies worth 80 million roubles to five Russian airlines operating new indigenously-built airliners. In 2003 the figure will rise to 300 million roubles.

Local authorities provided subsidies of 80 million roubles ($2.5 million) in 2002 and Neradko wants to double that this year.

Source: Flight International