Which planes will Aeroflot fly?

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Alexander Yurov) - Aeroflot announced more than a week ago that it had chosen a supplier of long-haul aircraft. The national air carrier opted for Boeing and Airbus, leaving Russian producers in the lurch.

However, there is no guarantee that contracts will in fact be signed.

Aeroflot's head, Valery Okulov, said on September 20 that his company would buy 22 Boeing 787s in 2010-2012 and 22 Airbus A350 aircraft in 2012-2016. The renewal of the carrier's long-haul fleet will cost it about $3 billion.

Aeroflot chose a compromise solution which should satisfy the two major aircraft producers without giving preference to either.

The growing number of air accidents is solid proof of the need for renewal. Tragedies have been following one another in quick succession, and although Aeroflot has not been involved in the majority of recent crashes, the general negative attitude to flying is growing fast.

Despite this, the tender was one of the longest in the history of Aeroflot. It was announced in 2005 and everybody expected results in February 2006. But the announcement was postponed until spring and then summer. Aeroflot managers say the results will be announced within days, as soon as the company receives relevant instructions from the Russian government.

However, Alexander Lebedev, co-owner of the National Reserve Corporation (NRC) and a deputy of the lower house of Russia's parliament, doubts that this will happen soon. He told journalists that unfortunately Aeroflot had made crucial decisions only on the basis of government directives. But the government is not in a hurry to issue the directive this time, and nobody can say which department of the cabinet is drafting it.

"The head of the air carrier engaged in wishful thinking [when he said the results would be announced soon]," Lebedev said. "There is no relevant government directive, and therefore the company's board of directors will be unable to make a decision soon."

Officially, Aeroflot is a joint-stock company and therefore its board of directors can, according to the current legislation, make such decisions without a government directive. However, the state owns a stake in the carrier of more than 51% (the NRC holds 30%) and will therefore have to voice its opinion, probably via its representative on the company's board. Since the government has not formulated its opinion yet, Aeroflot prefers to stay neutral.

Lebedev said consolidation of Russian air carriers around Aeroflot would be useless without foreign long-haul aircraft, because Dalavia and Vladivostok Avia make long flights.

But other deputies of the lower house do not support Lebedev's opinion. Alexei Mitrofanov, a deputy from the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, called for allocating $3 billion for the acquisition of new long-haul planes from Russia. Lower house speaker Boris Gryzlov supported Mitrofanov's idea.

Surprisingly, the allocation suggested by Mitrofanov coincides with the sum Aeroflot may have to pay for foreign aircraft.

The lower house intends to address the issue in October, when it will try to convince Aeroflot to "buy Russian". There are sound reasons for this.

The Voronezh aircraft plant produces four aircraft a year and will only need funds and a minor modernization to increase its output figures by 50%. Therefore, it could provide about 40 planes to Russian air carriers from 2010 to 2016, which is only four planes fewer than Aeroflot plans to buy abroad.

Under this scenario, Aeroflot would be able to modernize its fleet and would also support the national producer.

Until the parliament decides the issue, nobody can say which planes Aeroflot will fly in the next decade.

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