"Saratov Airlines" want to fly

The airline changed its mind about stopping its work and resumed selling tickets. It remains only to persuade "Rosaviation".
"Saratov Airlines," which announced May 17 about a stop since May 31, changed their mind about stopping work. The carrier resumed sales of air tickets for domestic flights, cut half of foreign charters for the summer, expecting that by the end of May Rosaviatsiya will renew its operator's certificate. Experts note that there are no economic grounds for stopping "Saratov Airlines".

"Saratov Airlines" refused to stop work since May 31 and resumed selling tickets through the website and agencies. The international charter program for June has been cut in half. The company specified that Rosaviatsiya is considering the application of "Saratov Airlines" to remove restrictions from the operator's certificate, which gives the right to commercial transportation (valid until May 30). The regulator must take a decision before May 27. The carrier reported on the stop on May 17, but on May 18 the company's board of directors held an emergency meeting, considering the fulfillment of the requirements of state bodies to remove the certificate's restriction. The Saratov Airlines assured that the obligations to counterparts and passengers "will be fulfilled in full", and the board of directors "makes every effort to keep the work", including the activities of Saratov Airport (part of the company structure). However, the Ministry of Transport specified, the restrictions in any case do not concern the airport.

Problems with Saratov Airlines began in mid-February, after the crash of their An-148, which killed 71 people. Rosaviatsiya several times limited the validity of the operator's certificate of the company, but it continued flights and received new aircraft. In mid-April, the carrier rebranded, replaced the livery of aircraft and now flies under the trademark "Oriole". The decision to stop, announced on May 17, was taken on the basis of a letter from the head of the Transportation Regulation Department of the Russian Air Transport Agency Andrei Kruglov. In it, the carrier was recommended not to book or issue tickets in the framework of working with tour operators and on their own flights.

Sources of Kommersant in the aviation and tourism markets say that the initial statement of the airline looked sudden and hasty: just in the middle of the week another Embraer entered the fleet of the carrier, there was no talk of stopping work. A telegram from a middle-level official, Kommersant's sources emphasize, is not a "normative act requiring mandatory termination of work", the certificate is annulled by the decision of the head of the Federal Air Transport Agency. "Such telegrams often come to the airlines, so that they carefully build sales while limiting the validity of the certificate," explains one of Kommersant sources. "The same situation was with Azur Air, the largest charter player, who did not sell tickets to tour operators before the restrictions were lifted."

At the same time, he adds, now "Saratov Airlines" can really sell tickets only within the validity period of the operator's certificate, so the new statement of the company looks no less strange than the original one. The reduction of the charter program, the interlocutor of "K" in the tourist market specified, was in any case inevitable because of the new regulations of the Federal Air Transport Agency and monthly monitoring of delays of flights - from mid-April to mid-May their share exceeded 20%.

The general director of STC Intourist (working with Saratov Airlines), Viktor Topopolkaraev, explained to Kommersant that the tour operator has not yet received official notifications from the carrier about the suspension or change in the terms of the charter program. All sales of tours with the flight "Saratov Airlines" since May 31 are suspended, and the final position of the company will be formed within a few days. One of the options for the fate of the company sources "b" called the change of owners. Now it belongs to CJSC "Invest-holding" Energosoyuz "and LLC Soyuz-Energo, controlled by businessman Arkady Evstafiev (ex-head of Mosenergo, resigned after criticism of Vladimir Putin). According to their data, even before the catastrophe interest in buying the carrier was exhibited by the same "Intourist", but negotiations were suspended. The interlocutor of "Kommersant" among tour operators confirms that the airline was offered for sale, but "no one is ready to invest in it now": the charter program of "Saratov Airlines" is not large.

Fyodor Borisov, chief expert at the Institute of Transport Economics and Transport Policy of the Higher School of Economics, believes that from a financial point of view the company is "not the worst in the market" and there are no real prerequisites for its closure. If Saratov Airlines leaves the market, the expert notes, the consequences will not be fatal, but its concentration and monopolization will intensify.

Why did Saratov Airlines change their minds about stopping flights?
RBC, 05/21/2018

Three months after the disaster in the suburbs, "Saratov Airlines" announced the termination of work, and the next day - about the continuation of flights.

They leave, but they do not say goodbye

"Saratov Airlines" on May 17 announced the termination of the company from May 31 and early termination of employees from July 18. The reason for this was explained by Rosaviatsia's demand.

On February 11, the An-148 of the Saratov Airlines crashed in the Moscow region almost immediately after the departure from Domodedovo airport, 71 people were killed. After that, checks began with the airline, as a result of which Rosaviatsia restricted the validity of the operator's certificate first until April 27, and then until May 30. Before that time, the airline had to eliminate the regulator's comments (the parties did not disclose the specific claims).

The representative of the company said that she fulfilled all the requirements of the Federal Air Transport Agency and "took all measures to correct all the observations within the established time limit". "All inconsistencies were eliminated, the reports were adopted by Rosaviatsia and its subdivisions," the company said on 17 May. However, the regulator decided to ban sales of air tickets and thus "actually doomed one of the oldest airlines in Russia to death," the company said.

Sending reports does not mean that Saratov Airlines has eliminated all violations, a spokesman for the Federal Air Transport Agency said. Precisely because the remarks remained, the department also asked to stop selling tickets from May 31, he explained. However, already on Friday, May 18, the airline said that an emergency meeting of its board of directors took place, at which the issue of fulfilling the requirements of state bodies of technical supervision and regulation of aviation activity was considered to remove restrictions on the operator's certificate. The company decided not to stop flights and resumed ticket sales in the usual way (albeit only within Russia). Tickets on the airline's website with departure after May 31 can indeed be bought. "At the moment Rosaviatsiya is considering the application of JSC" Saratov Airlines "on the removal of restrictions from the operator's certificate. The decision should be made no later than May 27, 2018, "the company said in a statement. Preservation of jobs and highly professional staff of the airline is a priority task of the board of directors, the company noted.

Between Rosaviation and "Saratov Airlines" there were already several public disputes. For example, in April, the head of the Federal Air Transport Agency Alexander Neradko accused the airline of being irresponsible, due to the fact that by filing an application for lifting restrictions, the company wrote down the names of the pilots who died in the February disaster. In April, Rosaviatsia accused the carrier's management of irresponsible attitude to flight safety. As a result, the agency suggested that the management voluntarily stop the airline and "focus exclusively on airport activities." Saratov Airlines owns the only airport in Saratov.

The shortcomings that affect the level of safety that were detected by Rosaviatsia are "currently being eliminated by the airline," the representative of the Ministry of Transport informed RBC. If necessary, experts of the aviation authorities are ready to provide advice to the carrier in this matter, he added. According to him, "in order to analyze the situation," a meeting with the participation of interested parties will be held in the Ministry of Transport in the near future.

Change of signboard

After the plane crash, "Saratov Airlines" announced the change of brand. On April 12, in an interview with TASS, Igor Natykan, the general director of the airline, said that the company will work under the brand "Oriole". Siberia Airlines after the plane crash in 2006 also changed the brand, which it used for 14 years, to S7.

Blackmail by airport

Following the statement on the termination of activities, the management of Saratov Airlines warned that it could close Saratov airport. First deputy director general of the air carrier Mikhail Gerasimenko told TASS that without the aviation business, the enterprise will not have money to maintain the airport, so it will be closed. However, the government of the Saratov region "will make every effort to avoid closure," said Sergei Balakin, deputy minister of transport and road economy of the Saratov region. According to him, as a last resort, buses can be launched to Kurumoch airport in the Samara region (about 450 km from Saratov).

Saratov-Central Airport is located in the Kirov district of the city. Its passenger traffic for the year 2017 increased by 11.1%, to 481.5 thousand people. It can accept small aircraft such as Yak-40, Yak-42, Bombardier CRJ 100/200, Embraer ERJ-145, Embraer E-190, Sukhoi Superjet 100, as well as helicopters of all types.

Senior analyst of the corporate ratings group ACRA Alexander Gushchin noted that in 2017, the airline significantly reduced its operating profitability, the money was enough only to cover operating expenses and leasing. "The decline in profitability was typical of many airlines in 2017: on the one hand, revenue is growing due to traffic growth, on the other - it is limited by strong price competition in the market," he added. According to the SPARK system, revenues of Saratov Airlines increased by 51% in 2017 to 5.73 billion rubles, while net profit fell by 18.7% to 123.4 million rubles.

The head of the portal Avia.ru Roman Gusarov noted that the statement of "Saratov Airlines" on the possible closure of the airport "akin to blackmail." According to him, the airport activity is profitable, including in Saratov. And in case of the departure of "Saratov Airlines", which receive more favorable conditions from this airport, the company will be replaced by other carriers, which may lead to an increase in the number of flights and, accordingly, to the growth of cash flow, he suggested.

With him agreed the source in the profile department: this is an attempt of pressure. But next year, the airline will not have such a leverage, because in Saratov a new airport will be opened, 50 km from the city, RBC's interlocutor added. The construction of the infrastructure is financed from the federal and regional budgets (9.6 billion rubles), while the airport complex is responsible for the Airport Airports of Viktor Vekselberg (7.7 billion rubles). Its capacity should be 1 million people per year.

Replacement for Saratov

The "Saratov Airlines" 31 unique route, for which no other company flies, was counted in the ticket agency OneTwoTrip. Basically, these are regional areas that bypass Moscow.

"In the event of a stoppage of activities, most of these areas should be of interest to other airlines that have the same capacity in the air fleet," said Leonid Ryaboshtan, director of air management at OneTwoTrip. Roman Gusarov also is sure that in case of the departure of "Saratov Airlines" their place will quickly be taken by other players. The Ministry is currently negotiating with other air carriers, inviting them to cooperate, as well as with Rosaviatsia, said Balakin.

Some of the routes of "Saratov Airlines" have already been replaced by other airlines, after Rosaviatsia banned the operation of the An-148 aircraft. For example, from "Kirov" to Moscow "Rusline" started flying, and from Orsk to Moscow - "Nordavia". These airlines have not yet responded to RBC's requests. And representatives of the airports Emelyanovo (Krasnoyarsk) and Mineral Waters told RBC that "Saratov Airlines" did not warn them about the termination of flights.

As a result of 2017, Saratov Airlines, which belong to Arkady Evstafiev, graduate of the Higher Academy of the KGB of the USSR, transported more than 796 thousand people, according to this indicator, the company ranks 19th among Russian carriers. "Regional carriers will become less and the ones who have unprofitable routes for large airlines will remain," said Mikhail Ganelin, analyst at Aton. At the same time, the Ministry of Transport's proposal to zero VAT on routes that bypass Moscow can support regional airlines, he added. It is in this niche that such big players as Aeroflot can not compete with regional companies, because they have different business models, the expert believes. The representative of Aeroflot did not respond to RBC's request.

The executive director of the agency "Airport" Oleg Panteleyev noted that the withdrawal of any market participant leads to a reduction in competition and negatively affects the customers. However, both the Saratov Airlines and VIM-Avia, which stopped flights in October 2017, were small companies, and their passengers would not be distributed in favor of any one player, but between several, the expert believes. According to him, now regional routes are actively developing S7, Rusline, IrAero and other carriers, which compete with each other. Moreover, in some regional areas there is also strong competition with other modes of transport, Panteleev noted.