Paul Duffy/MOSCOW

Sibir has been given the all-clear to take over Moscow-based Vnukovo Airlines, Russia's third largest carrier, for an unspecified sum. The principles of the deal were agreed on 23 December, and have now been ratified by Russia's aviation authority, the State Service of Civil Aviation (GSGA), which holds around 25% of each carrier. There had been no precedent in Russian law for the take-over of a major airline.

Novosibirsk-based Sibir has emerged as an industry leader in Russia, while Vnukovo (based at the airport of the same name) has struggled during the four years since control was transferred to a group led by the Russian Aviation Consortium. Most recently, its general director, Alexander Krasn-enker, resigned after its board used $20 million from the airline "for other business purposes", sparking strikes over unpaid wages.

The GSGA insisted that Sibir take over Vnukovo's $20 million debt, and has set a two-month deadline to receive confirmation from creditors that arrangements have been made. An agreement on the GSGA shareholding must be reached over the same period. Another condition requires most Vnukovo staff to be retained.

Sibir general director Vladislav Filiov says the merged airline will be renamed, and will benefit from improved economics and rapid growth. Both airlines operate fleets featuring Tupolev Tu-204s and - 154s and Ilyushin Il-86s, although only two of Vnukovo's 58 aircraft are currently operational. Nine were held at Domodedovo Airport over unpaid debts, but Sibir has now paid these. Vnukovo had also been unable to pay for maintenance - but Sibir is one of only three Russian airlines with its own maintenance base. Some 50 aircraft should return to service.

Sibir, which has also completed its take-over of Siany, with its single Tu-154M, carried 832,000 passengers in 2000, 12% up on 1999. Siany carried 37,000, and brings with it a hub in Irkutsk.

• Russia's airline industry showed growth last year - the first since the demise of the Soviet Union nine years ago. Provisional figures show that over the first three quarters traffic fell 8%, but a strong fourth quarter boosted passenger totals to 21.7 million, up 1% on 1999. Load factors rose to 64% from 62.4%. International passengers grew to 50% of the total from 42.3%, and freight was up 10% to 540,000t, with most growth domestic.

• The GSGA withdrew the operational licence of Rusavia on 17 January after its failure to operate charter flights over the New Year period. The action follows a statement by transport minister Sergei Franke that the number of Russian airlines would be reduced by the application of tougher operational and certification standards.

Source: Flight International