Aeroflot — Russian Airlines (Russian:Аэрофло́т — Росси́йские авиали́нии), or Aeroflot (Аэрофло́т), is the Russian national airline and is the biggest carrier in Russia. It was also the national airline of the Soviet Union and was once the largest airline in the world. It is based in Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, Russia (with corporate headquarters located in the nearby Aerostar Hotel). In 2005 Aeroflot flies to over 80 foreign destinations in almost 50 countries.
Shortly after the end of the Russian civil war in 1921, the new government established the chief administration of the civil air fleet to oversee budding air transport projects. One of its first acts was to help found Deutsch-Russiche Luftverkehrs - Deruluft - a joint venture to provide services from Russia to the West. Domestic aviation began around the same time when Dobrolet was established on 9 February 1923. It started operations on 15 July 1923 between Moscow and Nizhni Novgorod. In 1932 all civil aviation activities were consolidated under the name of Grazdansij Wozdusnyi Flot, simply known as Aeroflot. International flights started in 1937; before that date they had been carried out by a joint Soviet-German airline Deruluft. By the end of the 1930's Aeroflot had becaome the world's largest airline.
During the Soviet era Aeroflot was a synonym for Russian civil aviation. One of the rare examples of Soviet commercial advertisement was Aeroflot's slogan, "Fly on Aeroflot planes!" ("Летайте самолетами Аэрофлота!"). The irony was that Aeroflot had no competitors and it was virtually impossible for an average Soviet citizen to fly on a non-Aeroflot plane.
In January 1971 the Aeroflot Central Administration of International Air Traffic was established within the framework of IATA, and became the industry's sole enterprise authorised to operate international flights. Abroad the airline was known as Aeroflot Soviet Airlines. In 1976 Aeroflot carried more than 100 million passengers for the first time. Its flights were mainly concentrated around the Soviet Union, but the airline also had an international network covering five continents: North and South Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. The network included countries such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Spain, Cuba, and People's Republic of China. Since the 1970s some transatlantic flights were flown using Shannon Airport in Ireland as a hub, as it was the westernmost non-NATO airport in Europe.
Aeroflot also performed myriad other functions, it provided Aeromedical, crop-dusting, heavy lifting for the Soviet Space Agency (see Soviet Space Program), offshore oil platform support, exploration for natural resources, support for construction projects, transport of military troops and supplies (as an adjunct to the Soviet Air Force), atmospheric research, remote area patrol, but to name a few. It operated hundreds of helicopters and cargo aircraft in addition to civil airliners. It also operated the Soviet equivalent of Air Force One and other vip/vvip transports of government and communist party officials. Aeroflot joined IATA in 1989.
At the start of the 1990s Aeroflot reorganised again giving more autonomy to territorial divisions. In 1992 it was divided into more than 300 regional airlines. International routes were operated separately as Aeroflot - Russian International Airlines (ARIA). Some airline companies which were created from the old Aeroflot are now flag carriers of the newly independent countries of the CIS — e.g., Uzbekistan Airways. Smaller regional airlines which emerged out of the old Aeroflot — sometimes just one-plane operations — were sometimes referred to as Babyflots.
In 1994 Aeroflot was registered as a joint stock company and the governemnt sold off 49% of its stake to Aeroflot employees. During the 1990s Aeroflot was primarily focused on international flights from Moscow. However, by the end of the decade Aeroflot started an expansion in the domestic market. In 2000 the company name was changed to Aeroflot — Russian Airlines to reflect the change in the company's strategy.
The transition period severely damaged the safety record of the company. There was a number of accidents at the start of the 1990s. The last one was in 1994, when an A310 crashed near Mezhdurechensk, Russia killing 75 people on board. It happened after a captain allowed his 15 year-old son to manipulate the controls of the plane while a co-pilot was not able to reach the controls properly. Nevertheless, Aeroflot managed to improve itself dramatically in a short period of time and the airline's safe flights rate is currently 99.94 percent.
The company used to be severely criticized for its bad service, especially in the first half of 1990s. Although service has improved since then, the hardest part was to train attendants to deliver it with a smile. In the mid-1990s the company even had an advertisement slogan: "We don't smile, because we're serious about making you happy".
For a while now Aeroflot has been struggling to redefine itself as a safe and reliable airline. It hired British consultants for rebranding in the beginning of the 2000s. A new livery and uniforms for flight attendants were designed and a promotional campaign launched in 2003. The service has also improved noticeably.
Plans were afoot to get rid of the old Soviet-era logo complete with hammer and sickle, which some people in the West treat as an uncomfortable reminder of the old Soviet era. A customer survey showed that this is the most recognizable symbol of the company and it was decided to keep it.
Aeroflot also recently upgraded its fleet of western-build aircrafts. Now it has the total of 18 A320/A319 jet planes for short-haul flights in Europe and 9 Boeing 767 planes for long-haul routes. The total number of planes is 93. It carried 5.9 million passengers in 2003.
In spring of 2004 the airline started an aggressive expansion on the domestic market aiming to gain 30% share by 2010 (currently it holds approximately 9%). The first task is to outperform one of its major rivals Siberia Airlines, the current leader in Russian domestic market.
Aeroflot recently made a decision to join SkyTeam (another option was entry into Star Alliance). On May 24, 2004 Air France CEO Jean-Cyril Spinetta travelled to Moscow to sign a Memorandum of Understanding paving the way for Aeroflot's entry into SkyTeam in 2006. However, Lufthansa claims it is still in negotiation with Aeroflot to join Star Alliance instead.
The company has recently announced its plan to increase cargo operations. It has registered "Aeroflot Cargo" trademark in 2004. There is also a plan to replace current cargo fleet of 4 DC-10s with 6 MD-11s by 2006.
The airline is owned (at January 2005) by the Russian Government (51.17%), National Reserve Corporation (27%) and employees and others (19%). It also has 14,714 employees.
Aeroflot operates the following services (as of June 2005):
- Domestic scheduled destinations:
Adler/Sochi, Anapa, Arkhangelsk, Astrakhan, Barnaul, Belgorod, Chelyabinsk, Irkutsk, Kaliningrad, Kemerovo, Khabarovsk, Krasnodar, Mineralnye Vody, Moscow, Murmansk, Naryan-Mar, Nizhnevartovsk, Nizhniy Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Perm, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Rostov, Samara, St Petersburg, Tyumen, Ufa, Vladivostok, Volgograd and Yekaterinburg.
- International scheduled destinations:
Amman (operated by Royal Jordanian Airlines), Amsterdam, Ankara, Antalya, Athens, Baku, Bangkok, Barcelona, Beijing, Beirut, Belgrade, Berlin, Bishkek, Bratislava, Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Cairo, Copenhagen, Damascus, Delhi, Dnepropetrovsk, Dubai, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hamburg, Hanoi, Havana, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karlovy Vary, Kiev, Larnaca, Ljubljana, London, Los Angeles, Luanda, Madrid, Milan, Minsk, Mumbai, Munich, New York, Nice, Oslo, Paris, Prague, Riga, Rome, Seattle, Seoul, Shanghai, Simferopol, Sofia, Stockholm, Tallinn, Tashkent, Tbilisi, Tehran, Tokyo, Toronto, Ulaanbaatar, Venice, Vienna, Vilnius, Warsaw, Washington, Yerevan, Zagreb and Zurich.
Most of these points are served only from Moscow.
See article: Aeroflot destinations
The Aeroflot fleet consists of the following aircraft (at June 2005):
- 8 Airbus A319-100
- 7 Airbus A320-200
- 3 Airbus A321-200
- 6 Boeing 767-300
- 2 Ilyushin Il-76TD
- 8 Ilyushin Il-86
- 6 Ilyushin Il-96-300 (further 6 on order)
- 4 McDonnell Douglas DC-10-40
- 12 Tupolev Tu-134A
- 1 Tupolev Tu-134B
- 20 Tupolev Tu-154M
During the Soviet era, almost all of Aeroflot's were built by Soviet aircraft manufacturers.
During the 1940s and the early 1950s, the base aircraft for the Aeroflot fleet was a licensed version of the Douglas DC-3. Soviet-made, modified versions of this were named the PS-84 and the Lisunov Li-2. The first aircraft to be produced in the Soviet Union was completed in 1939.
On September 15 1956 Aeroflot started to operate the Tupolev Tu-104 aircraft, the USSR's first jet airliner in regular service. The first passenger-carrying flight of this aircraft was from Moscow to Irkutsk, Russia. The first international route served by the Tu-104 was Moscow - Prague, Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia).
The Tupolev Tu-114, originally used to transport Soviet leaders, came into service in 1961 on the Moscow (Vnukovo International Airport) - Khabarovsk, Russia route. It also served international routes such as Moscow - Tokyo, Japan and Moscow - Havana, Cuba, the airline's longest non-stop route at that time.
In 1962 Aeroflot began operating the Tupolev Tu-124, the smaller version of the Tu-104 for regional routes. These aircraft were later replaced by the Tupolev Tu-134, which entered service in 1967. Today, most Russian regional planes currently in service are modern modifications of the Tu-134.
In 1972 the first Tupolev Tu-154 began regular flights. This jet aircraft is probably the most popular Russian airliner, with over 1000 of these aircraft having been manufactured. The latest modification, Tu-154M, is still in service. These aircraft serve most of the Russian domestic flights.
On November 1 1977 Aeroflot started to use the Tupolev Tu-144, the world's first civil supersonic aircraft, on its regular route from Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) to Alma-Ata (now Almaty, Kazakhstan). The Tu-144 was suspended from passenger service in 1978, having officially carried a total of 55 regular flights.
The first Western-made aircraft to be used in an Aeroflot service, the Airbus A310, was acquired in 1992. The company also became a Boeing customer, acquiring new Boeing 767 jet aircraft in 1994. Since then Aeroflot has also operated Boeing 737s, Boeing 777s, Airbus A320s, and the cargo version of the Douglas DC-10s.
Other facts of interest
- The word Aeroflot literally means "The air fleet".
- Aeroflot started commercial flights to the United States in 1968. However, in 1979 these flights were suspended by the US Government in response to the Soviet intervention into Afghanistan. Direct flights from Moscow to New York were resumed in 1986.
- President Vladimir Putin's wife is a former Aeroflot flight attendant. She worked at the Leningrad-based subsidiary of Soviet Aeroflot (Leningrad Avia-Squadron), now Pulkovo Aviation Enterprise.
- Aeroflot was portrayed in Bourne Supremacy.
- It is also portrayed in a number of Soviet movies. Most notably:
- Aeroflot Airbus and Boeing Fleet Detail
- Aeroflot Passenger Opinions
- Aeroflot News from Airwise News
- History of Russian civil aviation (in Russian)
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