By Jeff Peet, Managing Editor, ALA News

  • The unprecedented sanctions imposed by Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States on Russia have inflicted a major blow on the airline that never completely got rid of the hammer and sickle logo: more than half of its fleet is grounded
  • In an almost unusual move in the industry, Aeroflot has permanently added an extensive Flight Cancellation and Rescheduling section to its website to deal with the difficult task of repatriating passengers
  • In the event that financial resources are not made available by Vladimir Putin’s government, the company will not be able to face the crisis that has brought with it the extreme reduction of its network of destinations
  • In addition to the suspended routes to the Caribbean given the closure of the Canadian airspace, it must be added that Aeroflot’s announcement of regular flights to South America for later this year is anything but possible

Due to the massive cancellation of flights and the end of routes that have affected the Russian flag carrier, the company was forced to add an almost parallel website, in which it reports on the inexistence of its service to what, until a month ago, were the most lucrative and popular destinations of its network.

In this regard, the effort done until today is still to provide return alternatives, through other airlines, to hundreds of passengers who travelled before the illegal Russian “military operation” began in Ukraine and who today are stranded in countless destinations that Aeroflot can no longer reach.

The great blows that have grounded a aignificant part of the fleet of the airline that never completely got rid of the logo with the hammer and sickle, were the result of the unprecedented sanctions imposed by the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Indeed, the capitals and main cities of Europe constituted the main source of income in terms of medium-range flights.

However, it was halfway through the closure of the airspace by all the member States of the European Union to Russian public and private airlines and to aircraft registered in the world’s largest country, when the company saw its viability greatly hit. The precise moment was when the United Kingdom and, more significantly, Canada followed suit in closing the skies, and as a result, Aeroflot simply could no longer cover its most profitable international long-haul routes: the large urban centres of the United States, a country that would also close its airspace to the Russian airline a few days later. As if that were not enough, the ban on flights through the Canadian airspace imposed by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also cut off Aeroflot’s routes to and from the Caribbean, a region that is very popular with the Russian population looking for sunnier places where they can avoid the legendary and icy winter that hovers over its territory for almost half of the year. Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic no longer have regular flights to or from Moscow.

The outlook for Aeroflot is so grim that the President of the Russian Federation took a break from his illegal war in Ukraine to visit a training center for pilots and crews of the airline in Moscow to  express his support for the company’s employees, on 5 March 2022. But gestures as such apart, if financial resources are not made available by the Kremlin soon enough, the company might not be able to face the crisis that has brought the unprecedented shrinking of its network of destinations. Very simply, the relentless sanctions could make Aeroflot financially and operationally unviable.

The great challenge ahead: Operations and maintenance

Being an airline whose majority of aircraft today is a decoration element in a plethora of Russian airports is already a huge problem. Yet, it is even worse, from an operational point of view, the possibility of not being able to provide the proper maintenance or secure the necessary spare parts for 179 aircraft that were manufactured in the now “unfriendly” Europe (Airbus) and the “hostile” United States (Boeing), out of a total fleet of 187. That means that before Aeroflot can adjust to its new and reduced reality in the event that the war lingers as it seems it will, a major operational crossroads could be in the making just to be able to manage and maintain the most visible asset of any airline: its airplanes.

The prospect for the code share agreements that Aeroflot had signed in recent years with other airlines is not encouraging either. Delta Air Lines suspended it hours after the Russian army invaded Ukraine and the Canadian carrier WestJet did something similar, a few days after the fateful “military operation” in Eastern Europe. It remains to be seen what will happen with Aeroflot’s membership in the Skyteam alliance. Nevertheless, the company is experiencing further ostracism as collaboration with Sabre, one of the leading technology corporations whose business platform allows, for example, access to the services and products provided by the airlines to travel agencies, has effectively ceased.

At Aeroflot they know the seriousness of the by now reputational damage facing the company. Even the popular English soccer team Manchester United, cancelled a fruitful commercial and sponsorship deal after nine years, no matter it was scheduled to expire and be renegotiated in the second half of 2023.

Regardless, Aeroflot’s executives so far have neither commented on the issue nor practically any other topic, apart from “posts” on their website about how they are facing the dilemma of repatriating Russian citizens and foreigners to and from where they can no longer fly, respectively.

Commercially the emphasis seems to be on promoting irrelevant destinations like Minsk and others in the former Soviet Central Asian republics, and China. All of that in an effort to show that for the time being the motto of the airline that was born in part as a propaganda tool for the former Soviet Union in 1923, a year before Lenin’s death it must be added, seems to be that “even while it rains nothing gets wet.”