Russia's Aeroflot to launch budget airline amid effort to revamp brand

Russian state carrier to invest £65m in Ryanair-style subsidiary as it tries to shake off Soviet-era image

Russia's state airline, Aeroflot, will invest £65m in creating its own budget carrier to begin flying in March, Russian media reported.

But while low-cost carriers are infamous for their flight delays, it's hard to imagine how Aeroflot's delays could get any worse, as the airline's existing customer service, like its hammer-and-sickle logo, often seems to be a relic of Soviet times.

Aeroflot, once the Soviet national airline and still the largest carrier in Russia, will spend the money over the next two years on establishing a subsidiary company on the model of Ryanair and Jetstar, according to a presentation given to Aeroflot's board of directors last Thursday and reported on Monday. Although the airline will start with domestic flights, it may eventually include international routes to popular destinations such as Barcelona, Istanbul, Kiev and Yerevan.

The move comes as Aeroflot tries to revamp its image both at home and abroad. This month the airline became Manchester United's first Russian sponsor.

"This means that with the help of 660 million fans we are now going to promote Russia and Aeroflot on the European market," Aeroflot's general director, Vitaly Savelyev, told the television channel Rossiya 24.

Meanwhile, in Russia, a company owned by the TV presenter and socialite Tina Kandelaki has won a 27.5m-ruble (£550m) contract to gain Aeroflot 190,000 followers on social networks in the course of a year, state media reported on Monday.

Aeroflot celebrated its 90th anniversary in March. In Soviet times, the ubiquitous advertising tagline "Fly Aeroflot" was often the subject of jokes, since there weren't any other carriers. The phrase "Aeroflot chicken," a derogatory reference to the airline's unappetising fare, also became a meme.

Although service has improved since the Soviet era, Aeroflot still draws complaints. Most recently, Dmitry Muratov, the editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, wrote a column in June about the overnight delay of an Aeroflot flight to the Crimea.


Alec Luhn in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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