Paul Duffy/MOSCOW

VNUKOVO AIRLINES has become the first of Russia's state-owned carriers to complete its privatisation, with the sale of a 41% stake to a Russian investment company for $150 million.

The holding was purchased by VIL, a little-known Russian trading company, after the privatisation auction in early October. The stake will give VIL effective control of the airline, with the Russian Government retaining a single "golden" share.

Another 20% of the airline's non-voting shares are held mostly by Vnukovo staff and pensioners, with the UK's Flemings Bank taking a further 5%.

The sale is not entirely clear-cut as rival bidder Finvest has filed a law suit claiming violations to the tender process. The Russian newspaper Izvestia is also reporting that the protocol confirming the acquisition was still not signed three weeks after the results of the tender were made known on 10 October.

The auction price is only around half of the $300 million that the Russian Government had placed on the value of its holding a year ago, but the airline and its advisors were apparently unable to find an investor willing to put up anywhere near that amount. In the end Goskom, Russia's state property committee, set a reserve price of only $105 million.

Other former divisions of Aeroflot, disbanded following the collapse of the Soviet Union, have made little progress to date towards privatisation.

The Russian Government had announced earlier this year that Aeroflot - Russian International Airlines (ARIA) should be privatised before the end of the 1995 financial year, but the timescale looks unlikely, especially after the recent boardroom shake-up.

The management reshuffle confirmed speculation over the departure of Vladimir Tikhonov as ARIA's general director. He is replaced by Marshall Ergeni Shaposhnikov, the former Soviet defence minister and commander-in-chief of Soviet forces.

Despite the lack of progress in privatising the old Aeroflot divisions, the country's private-sector start-up carriers continue to expand their business.

Grigori Gortovoi, first vice-president of Transaero, says that his airline plans to double its size over the next few years and is now looking to offer shares to outside investors to help fund the expansion.

Orient Avia, another private-sector start-up which operates scheduled Ilyushin Il-62 services to Russia's east coast, is hoping to secure its growth by establishing a consortium to fund the purchase of Tupolev Tu224s - the Westernised version of the Tu-204 with Rolls-Royce engines and US avionics.

The airline's general director Amiran Kurtanidze has gathered a group of commercial, industrial and local-government organisations, which are prepared to back the airline in its aim of providing Western levels of service in the Russian domestic market.

Transaero and Vnukovo are among the airlines which have lodged applications to become the second Russian carrier on the route between Moscow and London. A decision on the new route, which will be to Gatwick Airport, is expected from Russia's Air Transport Department by 10 November.

Transaero already flies to Gatwick via Riga under a wet-lease agreement with Latvian carrier Riair, and says that this service would be retained alongside any non-stop flights.

For Vnukovo, the route would be its first scheduled service outside the CIS, and also probably be the first route for its new Tu-204 passenger aircraft. The airline says that it would be in a position to start services from November, but a January start is more likely.


Source: Flight International