Saturday 31 March 2018

RUSSIA: Aeroflot To Commence Moscow To Dublin Flights

Aeroflot, the Russian state-controlled airline, is to launch a direct flight from Moscow to Dublin even as Ireland’s relations with the Kremlin chill following the expulsion of one of their diplomats.

A source at the flagship Russian carrier said a decision had been taken in Moscow to proceed with a direct flight although the company has yet to decide when it will commence and its frequency.

Aeroflot, which is controlled by the Kremlin, has an almost 50 per cent share of the Russia’s domestic market.

A direct flight to Dublin could lead to an acceleration in trade and tourism between the two countries.

Industry sources were unable to say whether the scandal over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and the subsequent diplomatic fallout would affect the timing of the launch.

However, there is confidence that it will not be derailed by the current tensions.

A delegation from the Dublin Airport met senior Aeroflot management in Moscow late last year to seal the deal, and an Irish Government source indicated that an announcement on a flight would be made very soon.

Alexander Bogachev, former head of procurement for Aeroflot, is understood currently to be helping Enterprise Ireland-backed companies win tenders with major airlines.

And GTLK Europe, the Kremlin’s leasing arm in Dublin, has a portfolio of $1.5 billion in assets based out of Ireland and could be tapped to provide Aeroflot with the necessary aircraft .

GTLK, which has raised $1 billion in financing in Ireland over the past two years, says Aeroflot is its biggest client.

Irish government agencies have been lobbying hard in recent years to secure a direct flight to Moscow and will be hoping it helps a recent resurgence in trade with Russia, which was badly hit by sanctions over the Kremlin’s interference in the Ukraine conflict.

The increased focus on Russia appears to be paying off, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade estimating the value of Irish exports to Russia at €500 million last year, an increase of almost 40 per cent.

The direct link will make it easier for Irish investors to see for themselves that Russia is a place where they are welcomed and can make money, provided they don’t check in any political bias with their luggage, said Chris Weafer, the founder of Moscow consultancy Macro Advisory.

Dublin Airport is always in talks with potential new airline customers about launching new routes to and from Dublin, however we never comment on whether or not we are in discussions with a specific airline, said Paul O’Kane, a Dublin Airport spokesman.

Apart from Valletta in Malta, Dublin is the only capital in the European Union not served by a regular direct flight from Moscow.

Aeroflot previously used Shannon as stopover to the US and the hope in Government circles is that an Irish airport can once again become a Russian aviation hub.

In 1978, Aer Rianta approached Aeroflot with a proposal to store Soviet Aviation Fuel at Shannon for use on the Soviet airline’s transatlantic services.

By the early 1980s, more than a thousand Aeroflot flights a year were clocked through Shannon as the Russian carrier routed other transit flights via Ireland.

Aer Rianta’s co-operation with Aeroflot led to the opening of a string of duty-free shops in airports in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Irish investors were among the pioneers during Russia’s new era of perestroika in the 1990s.

Aer Rianta forged the way by opening duty-free shops, bars and hotels in Moscow through a joint venture with the Russian airline Aeroflot.

Many small to medium sized enterprises, involved in everything from hairdressing to butchering, followed to take a chance in what they called the Wild East.

The refuelling at Shannon ended after Aeroflot acquired longer-range aircraft, while the 1998 rouble crash and default by the Russian government forced most of the Irish community to abandon Moscow.

S7, the privately-owned Russian airline, started flights to Dublin in 2008 but scaled back after the economic crisis. The carrier only schedules weekly flights now during summer months.

Ryanair was granted permission by Rosaviatsia, Russia’s federal air transport agency, in 2013 to fly but never exercised the right.

Tourism chiefs will be hoping the start of Aeroflot flights will lead to a bonanza in revenues from Russians, many of whom have fond association with Ireland

Russians have a particular affinity with Ireland, especially since Aer Rianta ran the first foreign currency and the first airport duty free shops.

An Irish bar, the Shamrock on New Arbat, was the first foreign bar to open in Moscow, said Weafer, who has been based in Moscow for 20 years.

If attendance at the St Patrick’s Day parade is a good guide with plenty of Russians dressed in green the new air link should bring a lot of Russians curious about the country they have adopted so fondly at home.

The Russian carrier, which says its classic Soviet emblem of a winged hammer and sickle now represents a smile has undergone a transformation in recent years.

Its fleet is among the youngest in Europe, its business class is considered top-notch, and it has sent its flight attendants back to school to learn to smile.

The company has also been a leading sponsor of Manchester United and the team’s official carrier since 2013.

In April last year, Aeroflot was named number one Business Class globally by TripAdvisor, the travel planning and booking site.

That gong came just after Brand Finance, the business valuation and strategy consultancy, named Aeroflot the world’s strongest airline brand.

Tourism Observer

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