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In September 2018 the largest airline of the Russian Federation, Aeroflot, announced the beginning of a full-scale crisis in the industry due to a one-third increase in the price of aviation kerosene. The carrier was forced to enter the economy mode, to abandon a number of development programs, including digitalization, and to put on the socially important but non-profitable Far Eastern routes more economical aircraft of the subsidiary "Russia". Aeroflot declared that it would not be possible to get out of the situation due to the increase in ticket prices. The supply exceeds the demand by 10-12%, which forced the airlines to dump and work at a loss.

The Soviet Union never had a commercial aviation industry in the Western sense. Instead, in a country in which the state owned the means of production, it was more accurate to use the term "civil aviation" instead of "commercial aviation." Aeroflot, the Soviet civil aviation authority and the Soviet state-owned airline, was one of the best known airlines in the world. By 1981, Aeroflot was the world's largest airline in terms of passengers carried, serving 87 countries all over the world.

At the end of the World War II, many countries had at their disposal a large number of new airplanes and airfields equipped with the latest technology. Within 15 years of the end of the war, using these assets as a starting point, a number of international airlines became major participants in commercial aviation. In 1960-1961, excluding U.S.-owned airlines, the top airlines of the world were (in order of number of passenger-miles flown): Aeroflot (the Soviet airline), Air France, the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation (BOAC), Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA), Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM), British European Airways (BEA), Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), Alitalia (the Italian airline), and Lufthansa (the German airline). With a few notable exceptions, most passenger air travel companies that flourished in Europe after the war were state-owned and not privately operated.

Aeroflot played a major role in reconstructing the Soviet Union after the war. Through the 1950s, Aeroflot expanded routes that stretched from the capital cities of Eastern Europe all the way to the farthest regions of Eastern Siberia. Its longest route was between Moscow and Vladivostok, almost twice the distance between New York and San Francisco.

Aeroflot was the first airline in the world to introduce regularly scheduled passenger jet service with its Tupolev Tu-104 jets. The twin-engined Tu-104 carried seventy passengers or twelve tons of cargo at a range of up to 4,000 kilometers. In 1961, Aeroflot introduced the huge Tu-114 high-speed turboprop aircraft on nonstop flights from Moscow to Tokyo and North America. Other jet or turboprop aircraft were soon acquired by Aeroflot: the An-10, and Il-18 turboprops; the short-range Yak-40; the medium-range Tu-134A; the medium- to longrange Tu-154; and the long-range Il-62M jet liners. By 1967, Aeroflot flew the most passenger miles in the world, and the Soviet passenger aviation industry (represented only by Aeroflot) was second only to America's industry.

Soviet civil aviation ranked last among Soviet transportation modes in 1970 in terms of gross freight turnover, hauling only about 0.5 percent of total freight volume. However, from the stand-point of convertibility to immediate military use for comparatively long-haul troop lift, it had very definite strategic and tactical significance. Many Civil Air Fleet special activities had direct military application-spraying, air ambulance and rescue work, aerial photography, and mapping, to mention a few.

The Soviet Civil Air Ministry was a militarized uniformed element with a rank structure, full-time political officers, and no doubt a KGB element to ensure reliability. By 1970 it had been headed for almost 10 year by the same active Soviet Army Air Forces (SAAF) officer, a strategic bombardment expert recently promoted to the rank of Marshal of Aviation; several of his principal deputies were also active list SAAF generals (his two immediate predecessors as Civil Air Ministers were also active Soviet Marshals of Aviation).

The Soviet Civil Air Fleet, or Aerofiot, was the world's largest single airline and has its own maintenance and supply system. Aerofiot had been estimated by Western commercial aviation experts by 1970 as employing from 300,000 to nearly 400,000 people, including unknown thousands of pilots. An active SAAF colonel general and first civil air deputy admitted grudgingly in 1970 only that Aeroflot employed "several hundred thousands" of people. Aeroflot also built and operated all civil air facilities to include its own commumca- tions and uses (or shared with SAAF) more than 1,000 airfields of all types from major international airports to hundreds of grass fields. Many of these are used only rarely or are on standby.

Civil aircraft numbers were estimated variously by the same Western experts at from 1,500 aircraft (including hundreds of small fixed-wing craft and helicopters) to 2,000 multi-engine transport aircraft (plus unknown numbers of lighter fixed-wing aircraft and several hundred helicopters.)

Many Aeroflot personnel were SAAF veterans and almost all are graduates of a widespread Aerofiot air and ground school system, as well. Like SAAF, Aeroflot also benefits from preinduction training given to members of DOSAAF (Vsesoiuznoe dobrovol'noe obshchestvo sodeistviia armii, aviatsii i fiotu SSSR-All-Union Voluntary Society for Assistance to the Army, Air Force and Navy of the U.S.S.R.) Most Aerofiot members are former DOSAAF members.

Soviet airline route miles nearly quadrupled from the 1940's to 1970; the number of passengers carried annually has gone up fifty fold and airfreight tonnage has increased ten times in the same period. Aerofiot conducted training programs for many Soviet satellites, other communist neighbors, and many underdeveloped countries and has supplied aircraft and facilities for these countries. Like the maritime fleet, Aeroflot was an instrument of foreign policy and influence, flying to about 50 countries. It was reasonably certain that Aeroflot, in so doing, has also been providing support to the farfiung Soviet intelligence effort.

The Soviets intended to continue expanding their civil aviation facilities and improving them qualitatively in the years ahead. From 1967 to 1970, they forecast a rise of nearly one-third in passenger numbers and freight cargo ton-miles as well as one-sixth in freight cargoes. Passenger forecast totals for 1980 were four times the 1967 figures. From a facility standpoint, 40 new major and 200 new local airports were planned by 1970. While some of the newer, larger planes may reduce overall inventory numbers, civil aviation still maintained several hundred larger transport aircraft, many of which are commercial versions of medium and light bombers. The airliner projected for widest use in the 1970's will have a seating capacity of 250.

Aeroflot introduced the supersonic Tu-144 airliner in 1975 but did not meet with much success. On Nov. 1, 1977, the Russian airline Aeroflot inaugurated passenger service with a production model Tu-144 when it flew from Moscow to Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan. Limited range and other technical problems led to service being discontinued in 1978 after only 102 passenger flights.

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Page last modified: 12-09-2018 18:50:09 ZULU