anna.aero in Moscow: Fast-growing Avianova stimulates Russian market; looking at top 100 cities for expansion
One of the fastest-growing airlines in Europe at the moment is the Russian low-cost carrier Avianova, which only launched operations in August last year. In its nine months of operation, the airline has already transported 400,000 passengers with its 180-seat A320s. It currently has reached a fleet of five aircraft, but expects to keep growing aggressively in what is the world’s largest country and home to more than 140 million people. anna.aero travelled to Moscow to find out more from the airline’s CEO Andrew Pyne.
Behind the airline’s ambitious expansion, it has two strong investors. Indigo Partners, the American company behind Spirit Airlines, Tiger Airways and Wizz Air, partnered up with the Russian conglomerate Alfa Group, one of Russia’s largest companies, in forming Avianova.
Although speculating, Pyne tells anna.aero how he perceives that Avianova stimulates the market, winning passengers over from rail services rather than other airlines. With 80% of sales through its website, in spite of low Internet penetration in the country, Avianova has attracted the young Russian population, as opposed to the largely business-oriented network carriers’ clientele.
Avianova now serves 16 airports in Russia; among them its two bases at Moscow Sheremetyevo and St Petersburg Pulkovo. The latter is, however, currently only a virtual base with no aircraft stationed at the airport. Instead, all destinations served from Russia’s second-largest city are operated as part of triangular routings from the airline’s only physical base so far, in Moscow.
Further bases are planned. Andrew Pyne says that there is potential for Samara, Sochi, Rostov-na-Donu, Ekaterinburg and Kaliningrad to become bases as the airline expands its network. Although the response to the airline’s St Petersburg routes has exceeded expectations, the airport is only likely to become the airline’s third or fourth physical base as further negotiations are required to secure the right market conditions. In spite of the plans to create further bases, Moscow – with its 17 million inhabitants – will remain the dominant Avianova base.
Focus on domestic expansion; international routes not on agenda
In Avianova’s plans for the next five years, the airline’s network is set to expand dramatically. Its network planners are looking at the top 100 cities by population in the country, analysing rail connections to see potential for air services. The typical destination starts with 2-3 weekly frequencies, with the potential to grow to daily flights. The smallest of the top 100 cities can, however, not sustain more than a weekly service. Currently, the airline’s only route to be operated with multiple daily flights is between Moscow and St Petersburg, which Avianova serves three times a day.
The airline has no plans to expand into the more sparsely populated Russian Far East in the first five years, nor any plans to go international. Andrew Pyne reasons that cross-border services add complexity and cost at the same time as it may distract the airline from domestic opportunities. If Avianova was to make such expansions in the future, it would be to nearby destinations within its limit of 2.5 hours’ distance from base, meaning that Western Europe never will be considered.
At the beginning of the summer season, Avianova moved its Moscow base from Vnukovo airport to Sheremetyevo, where it practically has its own terminal, making 30-minute turnarounds easier. Because the three Moscow airports have slightly different catchment areas, much like airport systems in other megacities, Andrew Pyne states that Avianova is not a stranger to serving all three Moscow airports in the future, although it would only have one base in the city.
Regulation slows down expansion
Currently, a limitation for the airline is that many of its prospective airports are not certified to accommodate A320 aircraft. Avianova therefore needs to be proactive in ensuring the airports receive such certification.
Although it is a challenge to set up a low-cost airline anywhere, Russian regulations are a major issue for Avianova in other fields as well. As an example, cabin crew training is conducted by the authorities and takes an entire 14 weeks – and that does not include teaching them to smile. The customer friendliness that sets Avianova apart is an in-house creation and at the airline’s current growth rate, it seems that it is catching on with the Russian population.