Alexander Velovich/MOSCOW

A battle for control at Russian airline Transaero has seen the airline's founder, Alexander Pleshakov, ousted, with Aeroflot Russian International Airlines majority shareholder Boris Berezovsky now believed to be have taken control through a share trading deal. There is now speculation that the two airlines could be merged.

The shift in control at Russia's third largest airline follows a meeting on 8 August at which a group of shareholders holding some 55% of Transaero elected a new chairman, Badri Patrakatsishvili, to replace Pleshakov, and a new board of directors. Rumours circulating in Moscow suggest that companies controlled by the Russian financial mogul Berezovsky had taken the 55% shareholding.

Pleshakov had attempted to block the new appointments by announcing that the meeting was illegal. He convened a new meeting a week later. This was attended by shareholders holding 96% of Transaero's stock, but nothing was agreed as the majority blocked the voting. The dispute is now likely to be settled in the courts.

With Aeroflot already owning 3.2% of Transaero, observers suggest that Berezovsky, who also has a major shareholding in Aeroflot, wants to merge the two companies. Pleshakov believes that the take-over was initiated so that Transaero could then be sold to an investor based overseas.

Shareholders are demanding "more transparency" in the company's accounts. Though the 1997 annual report has not been approved officially, auditors reports show losses of 498million roubles (about $79 million).

So far the turmoil in the management has had no effect on Transaero's operations, and the airline is moving forward with plans to order more aircraft.

Finance is being raised to fund an order for four Boeing 767-300ERs and 10 Boeing 737-700s for delivery by 2002.

Source: Flight International