Aeroflot unveils 'nice flight' budget airline

2013-10-11 10:02

Moscow - Russia's Soviet-era flag carrier Aeroflot unveiled its own budget airline Thursday that will have no reclining seats or business class while promising fares nearly half those charged by the competition.

Aeroflot said its new Dobrolyot carrier -- loosely translated as the "nice flight" airline -- will fly initially from Moscow to Saint Petersburg and seven other central and southern Russian cities before expanding its horizons.

"By limiting its expenses, the low-coster will be able to compete on prices with trains," Aeroflot promised in a company presentation.

Dobrolyot was the name Aeroflot itself carried in the first eight years of its existence between 1923 and 1930.

The concept of a budget airline could seem dubious in a country where small regional airlines are notorious for their poor flight safety record.

But Aeroflot has taken huge steps recently to improve its image while scooping up several awards for Eastern European service in the process.

Aeroflot stressed that Dobrolyot will keep up with the parent company's tradition of buying Western planes and steering clear of Russia's less-trustworthy and inefficient Tupolevs.

Dobrolyot intends to launch operations in mid-2014 flying eight brand new Boeing 737-800s.

These will be fitted out in navy and sky blue livery that has the airline's name spelled out in Russian across the front.

Aeroflot's share of the Russian market has slipped to just 40% -- a far cry from the days in the Soviet era when it proclaimed itself as the world's largest airline.

But the company has been on an upswing of late thanks to new standards adopted once it became a member of the SkyTeam alliance in 2006.

SkyTeam now calls Aeroflot's fleet "one of the most modern, youngest and fastest-growing ... in Europe."

Aeroflot this year also burnished its image by becoming the official carrier of the Manchester United football club.

The company promised Thursday that its spinoff will have fares about 40 percent cheaper than the competition for the same destinations.

The budget traveller will have to understandably put up with some hardships for these savings.

Aeroflot's presentation said Dobrolyot's planes will have no reclining seats or in-flight entertainment.

There will be no business class. And the cabins will be cleaned only once a day and not after every flight as on most regular airlines.

Aeroflot promised that passengers will however be able to upgrade for more comfortable seats with extra legroom and to purchase a basic lunch on board.

"We have to adopt the same limits on service that exist on foreign low-cost airlines," Aeroflot chief executive Vitaly Savelyev told reporters.

"Nothing will be free."

Savelyev also stressed that Dobrolyot will take to the skies only if Russia amends laws forbidding airlines from selling non-refundable tickets that can only be purchased through the Internet.

"We expect such a law to be adopted by the end of this year," Savelyev said.

Analysts believe that Savelyev is acting in the nick of time.

Low-cost European airlines are already flexing their muscle on the Russian aviation market -- seen as one of the world's most vibrant with an annual growth rate of 20%.

EasyJet in March launched its first flights between Moscow and London while Hungary-based Wizz Air followed in September with flights between Budapest and Moscow.

Dobrolyot has previously aired plans to fly to some favoured Russian vacation destinations such as Turkey by 2016.

The airline hopes to fly out of Moscow's modern Domodedovo airport but has yet to clinch a final agreement.

Savelyev disclosed that Aeroflot planned to spend about $100 million on the Dobrolyot launch over the coming two years before splitting off the carrier into a separately-operated company.

Aeroflot is majority-owned by the Russian government and analysts expect it will have no trouble launching Dobrolyot on time.

Dobrolyot will be led by Vladimir Gorbunov -- Airbus's regional director for Russia who once headed the short-lived Avianova budget carrier.

Read more on:    air travel  |  travel international  |  aviation

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