Monday, May 9, 2022

Civil Aviation Most of Russia Relies On Now Struggling to Survive

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – Because there are few or even no roads or railways in most of the Russian Federation, that country relies more heavily than almost any other on civil aviation to connect one part of it with another. But that essential link is in increasing trouble, with regional carriers collapsing and airports being closed.

            In Soviet times, Russian officials liked to claim that it was possible to fly from almost any place to any other even though they had to concede that sometimes these flights from one city to a nearby one had to go thousands of kilometers to Moscow on the way. But since the end of the USSR, no one makes similar claims.

            One measure of the system’s deterioration is that in 1990, the RSFSR had 1400 civilian airports. By 2016, that number had declined to 282; and now it is even less than that. As a result, many areas are increasingly cut off and their economic possibilities truncated (, and

            The Sakha Republic is especially dependent on air connections, and on the centenary of the formation of the Yakut ASSR, officials are celebrating the role of airlines in linking the various parts of that republic with each other and the republic as a whole with the rest of the Russian Federation (

            In many respects, this history of rise and fall mirrors that of the country as a whole. The first airplane, a Sopwith, arrived in Yakutsk in 1925 on a barge from Irkutsk; and for the first years, most flights in the republic were hydroplanes that could land on rivers, an essential capacity given that there were almost no airports.

            Aviation in Soviet Yakutia took off during World War II with the construction of numerous airports to handle flights from Alaska, part of the American lend-lease program that the YakutiaFuture article mentions but that the Putin regime has done everything it can to play down.

            Since 1991, aviation in Sakha has shifted from reliance almost exclusively on Soviet-manufactured planes to using American and Canadian ones, a process that may now go into reverse with the sanctions regime, something that threatens the continued existence of the Yakutia airline company and air traffic in Sakha.

            Also threatening the future of aviation in Sakha is the difficulties the regional and central government have in maintaining the subsidies that keep the prices of tickets within reach of the general population. Increasingly, the only people who can use domestic flights are officials and military personnel, thus limiting the ways in which airlines tie Russia together.

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