Russian Reawakening: The World Cup is coming, tourists are spending, Aeroflot’s rising and airlines are taking note

Is Russia an important airline market? For most global airlines in 2017, the answer was no. But in the world’s largest country by land mass—and ninth largest by population—developments are starting to get the industry’s attention.

Everyone will be paying attention this summer as Russia hosts the football/soccer World Cup, held at venues across 11 cities. For Aeroflot, Russia’s dominant airline, the event might very well be more of a burden than a boost, given all the additional training, staffing and spare aircraft required to ensure a smooth operation. The airline also expects at least some families to forego vacations during the games, and more broadly, history shows that these events often aren’t great—at least in the short term—for local airlines. Never ago, national preparations for the World Cup will bring major advancements in aviation infrastructure. Most importantly to Aeroflot, its Moscow Sheremetyevo hub will open both a new terminal and a new runway this year, almost doubling its annual passenger handling capacity to 66m. Cargo handling capacity will see a significant increase too, and further improvements to inter-terminal connectivity will reduce Aeroflot’s minimum connecting times (MCTs) by about half an hour— this means it can sell more convenient itineraries.

But do foreign airlines care about what’s happening in Moscow, and the rest of Russia? Increasingly, yes. One group that sees Russia as a major growth engine: Gulf carriers. With opportunities narrowing elsewhere, Qatar Airways, for one, began flying A320s to St. Petersburg last month—this after increasing its Moscow Domodedovo service from two flights daily to three. The airline is heavily promoting World Cup travel packages, eager to generate interest for the 2022 games scheduled for Doha. Like other Gulf countries, meanwhile, Qatar recently relaxed visa restrictions for Russian visitors, stimulating demand.

The Gulf’s LCCs are certainly taking notice. Russia is the epicenter of Flydubai’s 2018 expansion plan, which includes newlylaunched B737-MAX 8 flights to Moscow Sheremetyevo, on top of the Moscow Vnukovo flights it already offers—it will continue to serve both airports. Far from being just Moscow cen…

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