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The Flying Aurora

Is there a future for a new Far Eastern airline?

The Flying Aurora

A regional airline "Aurora" has been created in the Far East, which will carry out intra-regional passenger air transportation. Aurora was created through the merger of two Aeroflot subsidiaries - Vladivostok Avia and Sakhalin Airways, which have been part of the Aeroflot group since 2011. With the help of "Aurora" it is planned to restore the system of regular flights between Far Eastern cities that existed in Soviet times and at the same time significantly reduce the cost of such transportation.

The Far East is a region where the problem of transport accessibility has always been very acute. But even in the 70s and 80s, it was possible to get directly from Chita to Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Blagoveshchensk, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Ust-Kut, Magadan, Yakutsk, Tiksi, and most of these flights were non-stop. There was a full-fledged small aircraft, providing communication of the regions with the regional center, as well as ambulance aviation, which could quickly fly to the most distant "bear corners".

The phenomenon of the beginning of two thousandths - from one Far Eastern city to another is faster and cheaper to get through Moscow than through regional dockings. More or less internal transport has been and remains available only to residents of Khabarovsk and Vladivostok - these cities claim to be the Far Eastern hubs, having a relatively wide route network and railroad. However, the nearer the time approached the 2010-th years, the more actively new regional routes appeared.

Demand for movement between the Far Eastern regions exists and continues to grow. So, for the airline "Yakutia" the market of Far Eastern regional traffic became a good driver of growth. The company built a network of routes, connecting, for example, Magadan and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Khabarovsk and Petropavlovsk, Yakutsk and Khabarovsk, Yakutsk and Vladivostok, Blagoveshchensk and Vladivostok. A special achievement of "Yakutia" is the access to exclusive destinations in the APR - from exotic Saipan to a completely unique seasonal flight to the USA - to Alaska. In addition to "Yakutia", on regional routes, S7, IrAero and other companies were entrusted.

Talking about the total load of regional flights of listed companies today is not necessary. At the same time, empty planes do not fly. From this point of view, to say that the Aurora created by Aeroflot comes to an empty field - at least incorrectly. On most routes, the company will duplicate the existing carriers and enter into competition with them. 

It is planned that Aurora interchange nodes will be located in the largest Far Eastern cities - Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Yakutsk, Magadan, Blagoveshchensk, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. By 2018, it is planned to increase the number of destinations to 128, increase the number of flights to 534, expand the fleet of the new carrier to 40 aircraft, and increase passenger traffic to 2,4 million passengers.

No less intriguing - so how much will cost the tickets of the new carrier. Since regional transportation is not subsidized from the federal budget, today Far Easterners are cheaper to fly to Moscow than to the neighboring city. For example, the recent rally of Aeroflot, which allowed local students and pensioners to fly to Moscow for 5 thousand rubles at both ends, is alive in the memory of Yakutsk residents. 

Tickets are out of season for the pocket and Muscovites: for example, for the spring ticket to Khabarovsk or Vladivostok will cost 11-12 thousand round-trip - it is cheaper than a number of directions in the European and Siberian part of the country. But the ticket from Khabarovsk to Yakutsk can easily cost 20 thousand one way.

Against this background, the proposal of the Ministry of Finance to abolish the privileges on air travel for the Far East, under the pretext that they, they say, “rest in Asian countries,” sounded strange and was received with indignation. Far Easterners fly to the European part of the country not only to rest, although they cannot be deprived of this opportunity either. The Ministry of Finance proposes to use other ways to reduce prices for air tickets - to introduce subsidies for flights on regional routes, to encourage companies to acquire new equipment. But these measures do not mean an automatic reduction in the cost of tariffs: they can improve flight safety and quality of service, but ticket prices will still remain on the conscience of carriers.

Benefits so far appear to be the only well-established mechanism for increasing the availability of air travel, and their cancellation would be premature. Obviously, such a decision will only aggravate the already serious problem of isolating the Far East from the rest of Russia.

It is assumed that the cost of tickets for flights "Aurora" will be 15-20% cheaper than today. At a lower cost, in particular, the head of the government Dmitry Medvedev insisted, on behalf of which the Aurora was established. But the company was not created as a low-coster. The formation of a pricing policy to a large extent will depend on the regional administrations, namely, on regional subsidies.

At the same time, the regions are not eager to share this money, since their main purpose is to cover the costs of intraregional transportation of small aircraft. For example, the airport of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is connected by domestic flights with such points in the region as Palana, Ust-Kamchatsk, Ust-Khayryuzovo, Tilichiki and others - they can only be reached by small aircraft and only in summer weather. Is Aurora ready to take on this route network? Does she have matching planes? So far it is obvious that there is not - and for the administration of the same Kamchatka Territory it is much more priority to ensure the availability of domestic traffic than to finance lower prices for tickets to Khabarovsk and Vladivostok.

So it turns out that theoretically interaction with regional authorities implies the inclusion of regions in the number of holders of shares and allocation of subsidies for the most significant and demanded routes. However, in fact, so far only the Sakhalin region has become such a shareholder - and that is because before joining the Aurora the Government already cooperated with Aeroflot, being a co-owner of the Sakhalin air routes. In fact, for the Sakhalin region, the operator of intra-regional traffic has not changed - how to be the Kamchatka Territory, the Chukotka Autonomous District, the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), where such cooperation with the Aurora inevitably leads to a revision of the policy on domestic routes?

At the same time, all these large-scale plans bring to the fore the problems of training qualified personnel, purchasing new modern aircraft, and modernizing the local aviation infrastructure. Today, the work of some regional airlines in the country raises many complaints and doubts about their safety and quality of service. So far, the Aurora is not without difficulties, for example, the situation with the detention of flights at the airports of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Okha, which the South-Sakhalin court considered an administrative offense, testifies to. 

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