Currently, there are still more questions than answers about this aviation project. For example, what name the future carrier will bear, its fleet structure, the capital resources, or where the newcomer will be headquartered, and which routes it will operate. Clear at this point, however, is that the Kremlin has internally given its okay for the inception of an airline primarily serving the vast territory of eastern Russia.
The latter was confirmed by Alexander Kozlov, the head of the Ministry of Eastern Development. In an interview with Russian news agency TASS, he announced that until 10SEP20, his Ministry will submit optional schemes to the government concerning the project. In particular, “we intend to table fleet proposals and data on traffic flows, and will present different options and mechanisms of state support,” the high-level official told the members of the government commission on socio-economic developments of Russia’s Far East.
With Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Yakutsk or Norilsk, there are more or less well-known cities scattered across a vast territory which, up to now, has only been moderately or infrequently connected to the transnational Russian air networks. Given the immense geographical dimensions of the country, where all roads lead to Moscow and there is little cross-traffic, they feel neglected and left sidelined. A dissatisfaction that has grown, lately.
Just how fed up many people are with the policies dictated by the Kremlin that has neglected the region for long, is shown by the recent mass protests in Khabarovsk, the largest in the history of the city, the online portal DVHab.ru. claims. Following the arrest of Khabarovsk governor, Sergei Furgal, in mid-July, thousands of demonstrators flocked to the streets, fueling anti-Moscow anger. The politician, member of the Democratic Liberal Party (LDPR), was detained in the Russian capital on charges of having killed a number of businessmen 15 years ago.
The local opposition and international observers keep criticizing Furgal's arrest, calling it an attempt by the Russian justice to intimidate his political movement. In the gubernatorial election held in the Khabarovsk region in 2018, Furgal had won almost 70% of the votes, clearly defeating the local candidate of President Putin’s governing party, United Russia.
Carrot and stick policy?
Asked about the airline project, people close to the case speak of a deliberate concession by Moscow to the inhabitants of the far eastern parts of the country. “They arrest an uncomfortable politician and give us an airline to calm us down. That's the well-known carrot and stick policy,” said one voice who wants to remain anonymous. The plans for this seem to have reached the final straights since the Ministry of Development, the Ministry of Transport, and regional authorities are working out the route network and determining the necessary financing.
By launching an airline in Russia’s Far East, the government expects to solve one of the gravest problems local dwellers are facing: the lack of connectivity. This is a key issue throughout the region given the large distances separating the East Siberian cities, the challenging climatic conditions and – most importantly – the lack of ground infrastructure. Under these adverse conditions, air traffic is the most convenient, and often the only way to connect remote settlements.
Call for liberalizing ground handling services gets louder
Simultaneously, established Russian carriers have started an initiative aimed at allowing independent ground handlers to operate at airports. Due to the lack of competition, fees dictated by airports for providing passenger and cargo handling services are extremely high when measured on international levels. Consequently, airlines pass on these expenditures to their customers by upping ticket prices and cargo rates.
In addition to “Taiga Air,” the non-discriminatory access of independent ground handlers to the airport infrastructure demanded by Rossiya Airlines in an appeal to the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) and supported by its peers, is another issue the Russian administration must address.
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