MOSCOW - State-owned Pulkovo, the nation's No. 3 carrier, will cease to exist after it merges with smaller airline Rossiya later this year, government officials said Tuesday.
Presidential Property Department spokesman Viktor Khrekov said by telephone that Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov late last month signed a resolution defining the new status of Rossiya, which carries the president and senior government officials, as well as commercial passengers.
"The merger will be completed within a year," Khrekov said.
The resolution calls for Rossiya to transfer about 30 of its 41 jets to the Kremlin, which will then hire pilots and crews from the airline on a contract basis, Khrekov said. "This will allow us to save up to a quarter of budget allocations on these flights," he said.
The new airline, tentatively called Soyuz, will get the remainder of Rossiya's fleet, Pulkovo's 40-plus Tupolevs and Ilyushins, and the licenses and routes of both airlines.
Pulkovo Airport, St. Petersburg's only commercial airport, which currently belongs to the eponymous airline, will be spun off as a separate commercial entity.
Gennady Chernov, deputy head of the Federal Air Transport Agency, said the new airline will offer stiffer competition for flagship carrier Aeroflot.
In the first 11 months of 2004 Pulkovo carried 2.5 million passengers, while Rossiya carried 578,000. Aeroflot and No. 2 airline Sibir carried 6.3 million and 3.5 million, respectively.
In end of year figures, Pulkovo announced a 12.3 percent rise in passenger numbers for 2004, Interfax reported Wednesday. The figures showed that the main rise was in the number of international passengers: up by 17.2 percent to 1.35 million.
The number of domestic travelers rose by 7.8 percent to 1.35 million, and the freight flights carried a 9.5 percent increase, totaling 9.364 tons. Neither Pulkovo or Rossiya would comment on the merger.
"It is early to say," Pulkovo spokeswoman Alexandra Cherkasova said. "The government resolution does not offer any concrete details."
Last year Pulkovo announced that it planned to acquire several Boeings due to a lack of available Russian-made craft, but Cherkasova said it was unclear if that plan will now have to be revised.
Both Rossiya and Pulkovo have acting general directors, and there is no clear indication of who will run the new company.
"There are a number of candidates to head the airline, but no firm decision yet," Chernov said.