Out of the 90 carriers I have flown, none have been Russian. I had wanted to try private Russian airline Transaero’s legendary Imperial First Class with its gold embroidered seats, cotton sheet sets and special China! Its First Class came 16th in the world’s First Class cabins.
Alas not to be for the airline closed their doors on 26 October 2015, days from their 24th Birthday on 5 November.
Transaero had aimed to keep flying through to 15 December but its operating certificates were revoked after Russian banks withdrew support. The safety authorities then determined that Transaero’s massive debt posed a hazard to the flying public.
The company had a First Class debt of a staggering $US3.9 billion (250 billion roubles), before it closed. One-sixth of their revenues were going straight to pay their creditors. Yet its demise was fast for up to 2013, Transaero had been profitable.
Transaero was an airline of many firsts- they were the first private Russian airline, operated the first frequent flier program in the country, were also the first Russian airline with an FAA aircraft maintenance certificate and the first in the country to order the A380 and 747-8.
Between 2010 and 2014, the airline adopted an aggressive growth pattern expanding to 156 destinations and growing to a fleet of 97 planes. Passenger numbers doubled in that period. Occupancy levels were higher than Aeroflot as were the number of passengers crammed into planes. While First Class passengers enjoyed space and luxury, economy were crammed in. The airline had for example 522 passenger seats on a 747 and intended to operate one of the most crowded Airbus A380s with 652 seats.
The stalling of the Russian economy through 2013 followed by the 2014, Russia annexation of Crimea saw the Russian economy and rouble collapse. Transaero’s passenger numbers fell hitting revenue as the airline’s costs rose. The airline had losses of half a billion dollars per year for 2013 and 2014. This situation clearly worsened through 2015.
It seems Russia’s Aeroflot group will be the winner from the current situation. Aeroflot has taken on 56 of Transaero’s routes and offered jobs to more than 6,000 Transaero employees. The Russian flag carrier has re-absorbed four of its regional carriers. Aeroflot has also created Pobeda,a low-cost subsidiary, which has a monopoly on the no-frills sector.
There are two other major private airlines left in Russia: One World member S7 and UTair Aviation. Aeroflot has attempted to take over S7 several times. UTair lost even more money than Transaero last year, and only kept going by restructuring debt and dramatically scaling down its operations. It would be sad to see both of these airlines follow Transaero. The result would be of a virtual Aeroflot monopoly…a return to what Russia had pre 1989!