Russian History


Air Transportation

Of the modest amount of passenger traffic in Russia, air service accounts for a relatively large portion, although the volume of traffic declined in the first half of the 1990s. In 1990 the monopoly service of Aeroflot, the Soviet Union's state-owned airline, accounted for 22 percent of the total distance passengers traveled, a proportion comparable with the proportion of travel on the airlines of the United States and Canada. However, the contribution of air service to total travel had dropped to 12.5 percent by 1993, and the number of passengers flying was less than half the 1990 total. Subsidized air fares and long-distance flights between cities accounted for much of the air activity in the early 1990s. In 1994 Russia had a total of 2,517 airports, of which fifty-four had runways longer than 3,000 meters, 202 had runways between 2,400 and 3,000 meters, and another 108 had runways between 1,500 and 2,400 meters.

As with the rest of the economy, air travel has declined substantially as prices have increased and travelers' incomes have declined. The airline industry also has undergone major adjustments in the 1990s. Aeroflot, since 1995 a joint-stock company with majority state ownership, remains the main Russian airline. However, more than 200 regional carriers have emerged in the former Soviet Union, and most of them are in Russia. With flights from so many carriers, direct service is now available between regions, including direct flights from the Russian Far East to Japan and Alaska, without the previously obligatory stop in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

At the same time that airlines decentralized, so did reservation systems and navigation control networks, making those aspects of airline travel less efficient. Experts predict that as market forces continue to work in the sector, higher fuel costs and declining passenger demand will force mergers and bankruptcies that eventually will lead to a more efficient system.

The airline industry also must deal with an aging capital stock. As of 1993, some 48 percent of the national system's aircraft were more than fifteen years old. To upgrade, Russian airline services have purchased aircraft from Western firms and demanded more modern aircraft from domestic manufacturers.