Russian Airlines Hit Hard by the COVID-19 Pandemic

Russian Airlines Hit Hard by the COVID-19 Pandemic

In 2019, all Russian airline companies increased passenger transportation numbers by 10% compared to 2018 – up to 128 million people. More than 47% of the passenger traffic was accounted for by the Aeroflot group, which includes the airlines Aurora, Aeroflot Russian Airlines, Pobeda and Rossiya. In 2019, Aeroflot employed approximately 30,300 people; Rossiya employed 7,100 in 2017; there is no data for the other two Aeroflot subsidiaries, nor is there data for the employment levels in the airline industry as a whole in Russia. No data is available regarding the industry’s CO2 emissions either.

Aeroflot Russian Airlines is currently the only airline that is giving any kind of statements regarding its environment policy. The airline has an energy efficiency action plan that claims to allow Aeroflot PJSC to save 1.5 million tons of jet fuel per year and to reduce its consumption rate by 43.6 % by 2020. This is the only airline in Russia that has a carbon calculator. In general, very little data is available to the public concerning the Russian airline industry’s revenues, employment figures, or carbon emissions.

Like everywhere else in the world, the situation for the aviation industry in Russia is also dire. The country has 108 commercial airlines of various sizes. According to Roman Gusarov, the head of, “for Russia, January and February are the ‘dead’ season, when people almost do not fly”. At this time, airlines traditionally incur big losses and fly almost empty planes because regular flights imply adhering to the schedule. Summer sales were supposed to start in March, but due to the pandemic they did not. Gusarov notes that “if the airline does not fly for two months, it is guaranteed to go bankrupt”, since aviation is an extremely resource-intensive, but low-margin industry. If borders with other countries remain closed until October, Bain & Company estimate that this could cost Russian airlines 360 billion rubles (almost $5.3 billion). At the time of writing, the Russian government was considering partially opening borders with the EU and several other countries.

According to Gusarov, the measures of support announced by the state, in particular tax holidays and reduction of air navigation charges, are not enough. “Urgent measures are needed, financial injections are needed,” he says. On June 2nd, the Russian government published its plan for an economic recovery and within this plan the airline industry was promised 23.4 billion rubles worth of compensation.

However, any economic bailout by the government should be accompanied by a demand for airlines to improve their transparency and accountability when it comes to emissions, as well as to come up with a clear environmental strategy and present ways to curb emissions. As we have seen, there is virtually no data available for Russian airlines’ emissions and only one airline has any kind of environmental policy in place, though somewhat vague and non-binding. It is vital to really understand the state of Russia’s civil aviation’s GHG emissions to see what requirements need to be introduced in the future.

Taking into account the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA (which aims to stabilize CO2 emissions at 2020 levels by requiring airlines to offset the growth of their emissions after 2020), airlines will be required to:

  • monitor emissions on all international routes;
  • offset emissions from routes included in the scheme by purchasing eligible emission units generated by projects that reduce emissions in other sectors (e.g. renewable energy).

However, during the first phase (2021-2035) participation is voluntary and there are exemptions for those with low aviation activity. Therefore, the Russian government must exert pressure on the country’s airlines to participate in the scheme. Other approaches that the Russian government should demand the airlines to apply before handing out any aid include:

  • fly more efficient aircraft;
  • use new technologies to set more efficient flight paths and reduce delays;
  • use sustainable lower-carbon alternative fuels;
  • invest in emissions offsets within or outside of the aviation sector.

Activity Rating: *Falling Behind

Take Action

Message to Russia Minister of Transportation:

Dear Evgeny Ivanovich Dietrich,

Russia’s civil aviation industry is falling behind many of its global counterparts when it comes to reporting on emissions and striving to implement better environmental and energy efficiency policies. As part of any government bailout plan following the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that the government uses this opportunity to demand an overhaul of the aviation industry and oblige it to become more transparent and accountable for its emissions, and demand for strategies to be put in place in line with international recommendations to “clean up” Russian civil aviation’s act if we really want to avert a climate catastrophe.


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This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Russia Country Manager Maria Stambler

Photo: AFP/Ozan Kose

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