The aviation industry came to almost a complete stop when the pandemic began, but while most countries started recovering in 2022, Russia still lagged behind due to its invasion of Ukraine. Yet, despite all the sanctions, the market is projected to recover 91% of its pre-pandemic passenger levels this year.
Soon after the war started, countries around the world, including all EU members, the USA and Canada, imposed severe restrictions on Russian aviation, closing their airspace to Russian airlines, as well as stopping servicing and maintaining Russia operated aircraft. Some countries however, that did not implement any restrictions, had to gain from the situation, with Turkish Airlines and Air Serbia for example seeing their prices skyrocket.
On the other hand, Aeroflot, Russia’s largest carrier, received a few state cash injections and increased firstly the number of domestic fights and then the number of flights to still accessible countries, including Türkiye, Egypt, Thailand and the UAE, and set up an international network from Sochi. Thus, after a standstill in the post-pandemic recovery curve, Russian aviation seems to be picking up again.
According to Cirium data, Aeroflot passenger numbers decreased 11% in 2022, unlike other international airlines that saw strong recoveries last year. However, analysing seat capacity this year and the schedules for the April-June quarter, the Russian carrier’s seat capacity is projected to increase 22% compared to 2022, with seats to and from Russia only being 9% below pre-pandemic levels. The increase is driven by a further increase in international flights, markets with lots of added seats including Dubai, Istanbul, Phuket and Antalya.
The orange line on the graph “shows the seat capacity trajectory for Indonesia, a market that was roughly similar in size to Russia’s in 2010”, Cirium explains. “It grew considerably faster than Russia for most of the 2010s but peaked in 2018 (Russia’s peak was 2019). Indonesia had a rougher 2021 than Russia but then unlike Russia, started to recover in 2022.”
Despite these promising projections, Russian airlines are still bound to struggle, having had to strip old planes for parts, not only for the Boeing and Airbus jets, but also for the Russian-made Sukhoi, the parts for which are still made abroad, even if it is ultimately assembled in Russia. Additionally, because there are no adequate flight simulators in Russia, pilots need to go abroad for their regular training. A recent set of European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) sanctions extends the training ban to Türkiye, which means most, if not all Russian pilots will soon be prohibited from flying since simulation training is mandatory twice a year for pilots to maintain their licenses.