Thursday, 28 February 2013

Russia airlines round-up: the World's most stylish cabin crew and more...

                                                                                     Picture: Aeroflot

I already had the chance to mention how much do I like Aeroflot's website design and aircraft livery, now, Skyscanner's users have added another item to add to the list: Aeroflot has the most stylish uniforms in the airline industry...Who would have said just 20 years ago!

And, finally, some good news for Sukhoi's Superjet! Mexican airline Interjet is going ahead with its purchase of 20 Superjets. They will replace A320s on domestic routes. And this happens on the same week Sukhoi is delivering its first Superjet in Indonesia, this honour goes to Sky Aviation...The reverse of the coin, however, is that the $900M. deal in Indonesia with Kartika Airlines is not going to materialize, on this occasion it has actually been Sukhoi that pulled out of the deal because, apparently, the Indonesian airline could not fulfill its financial requirements...

 Some time ago I analyzed why low cost carriers have it so hard in Russia...RBC magazine has also been looking into this matter and published an interesting report (an English summary is available here)...the conclusion: Russia's best chance to get its own low cost airline is...Aeroflot! It actually makes a lot of sense if you see what flag carriers are doing all over Western Europe: Iberia Express (or maybe Vueling instead?), Air France's Hop (I can't resist calling it "Hope") or Lufthansa's Germanwings rebranding...why wait until you are against the wall if you can have first mover advantage and have time to learn the game?

Last but not least, if you are a pilot looking for a new challenge this one is for you: Russia its planning to lift its ban on foreign pilots as a result of a the pilot shortage Russian airlines are currently facing.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

KLM wants you to run your own airline with its latest Facebook game

KLM continues to rock with its social media activities. Its latest Facebook initiative has aviation enthusiasts all around the World already salivating...5000 likes and over 150 comments on Facebook and the game hasn't launched yet!

As someone who grew up playing Railroad Tycoon, I could not resist the allure of running my own airline (at least that's what it appears to be promising!) and already signed up to get notified once the game is live.

Looking at these fantastic vintage aircraft my guess is that KLM's game is also going to leverage its historical heritage (KLM is actually the oldest airline still operating anywhere in the World!). Something I certainly don't mind...!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Russia Airlines round up: the last Tu-154, Superjets grounded and more...

Today the top slot goes to a classic of aviation...

I was quite amazed when I read the story on Ria Novosti's site, but, yes! while most airlines, including Russia's, were busy getting rid of the iconic Soviet-era airliner, deep inside Russia there was still a factory churning out Tu-154s. It was, because today has rolled out the last of them putting an end to 45 years of production!

(note: the aircraft in the picture is not the last of the line, but a Kirgyzstan Airways TU-154M that I spotted at Domodedovo airport a few years ago. But you can find a great Tu-154 infographic here!)

Although for many is already a vintage souvenir, if you waish to fly on a Tu-154, there are still plenty of options around, among them North Korea's flag carrier, that it recently launched an online booking service!

The Tu-154 might have its issues, but being around for 45 years is quiet an achievement for a piece of technology. It was expected that the type of shortcomings that led most of the airlines of the former Eastern block to ditch their old Soviet models as soon as they had a chance would be overcome by the new darling of the Russian civilian aerospace industry, the Sukhoi Superjet, however, as already commented in the previous round-up, the Superjet seems to be experimenting serious reliability issues, this time, the whole Aeroflot Superjet fleet has been grounded. But to be fair, this is not exclusive of Russian airliners, just ask Boeing about its 787s!

On a totally separate page, UTair is considering an IPO. The English story I linked to is to a premium source, but if you can read Russian, here is a longer article about the matter. While UTair might not be very well known to the non-Russian public, it has quite a large domestic operation, with a strong focus in oil producing areas of Siberia. It also operates a helicopter fleet, something quite unusual for major airlines in the West, but not that rare in Russia!

And European low cost airlines are finally coming to Russia!...or maybe not (yet) there seem to be some problems with Easyjet's documentation, that has not been able to confirm the start of flights despite having (apparently) sorted out operational and administrative issues and started selling tickets on its new cherished Moscow routes...In any case, Easyjet is expected to be followed soon by another European LCC, Wizzair. Are we going to see Ryanair in Russia soon?

Friday, 8 February 2013

Russian airlines round-up (8/2/13): Superjet's reliability, Aeroflot posters and more...

Some interesting news this week about Russia's two main civilian airliner programmes. While Irkut's MS-21 continues to make progress, the first major fuselage section has been assembled, Sukhoi's Superjet is again under suspicion. According to this article (in Russian) Aeroflot is not particularly happy with the Superjet's reliability: this aircraft type makes 8% of Aeroflot's fleet, but is responsible for 40% of technical incidents!

 At least it looks great!
An aircraft the Russian flag carrier can count on from now on is the Boeing 777-300ER, that has finally entered service this week on the route between Moscow (Sheremetyevo) and Bangkok. Aeroflot has finally become the third triple-seven operator in Russia, after Transaero and Orenair, although it does so after a number of administrative issues that have delayed the aircraft's entry into service. Every day of delay causes the airline a loss of $50,000, so now Aeroflot wants to sue the aviation authorities asking for compensation.

By the way, still in relation to Aeroflot: if Aeroflot's 90th anniversary was featured on the latest "Russia airlines round-up", today I could not avoid sharing this collection of downloadable posters about Aeroflot's history that is available on the Russian language version of the airline's website!

Also in the news this week was the liberalisation of air traffic rights between Moscow and the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. An important route in the post-Soviet space that now sees around 14 flights a day, operated by 5 different airlines.

And talking about regulations: a number of incidents sparked by drunken passengers on Russian aircraft have raised concerns about alcohol abuse during flights, to the point that the Russian authorities are considering tightening in-flight alcohol sale regulations, even for duty-free items. As you might imagine, the industry is not too happy about it...

And last but not least...have you seen how Moscow Vnukovo airport new terminal look like? Vnukovo is here. Barcelona, here. Spot the differences!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

App in the Air, improving the global traveler experience, one app at a time

Flying is one of those experiences that can be at the same time exciting in a positive way, particularly if you are an aviation enthusiast, but at the same time exhausting and exasperating because of all the procedures involved (getting to and from the airport, waiting times, delays, etc.). The availability of connected mobile devices, and particularly tablets, has done done a lot to alleviate and improve the air traveler experience either on land or on board.

It is reviewing this type of apps and sites that from time to time I come across a true gem, this is the case of my latest discovery during my stay in Moscow:

App in the Air, an application (for now available on iPhone) that aims to make the most of your flight experience.

In short: App in the Air provides you a tool kit to manage your plane trips, you can  track your flight status (check-in, boarding, gate/terminal information, delays), get tips about the airports you are flying through (where to eat, how to connect to Wi-Fi, etc.) and chat with other passengers (to share taxi from airport or find out whether security line is long and you should arrive at the airport in advance) and, in line with the "quantified-self" trend lets you keep organized records of all your flying activity.

Of course you can get this type of information through other apps and sites, but what I think makes App in the Air stand out is the nice and functional way in which all these practical features have been combined. Plus in addition to an elegant interface it has some nice details, such as notifications when there is just a certain amount of time left before check in or boarding.

I played with the app for a little while and as I liked what I saw I took advantage of the fact that I was in Moscow to meet with Bayram Annakov, of the team that developed it. What follows is a short interview with him:

Q: How did App in the Air start? What's been your story so far?
Bayram: It all started with a geo-location chat Squeek which we developed in 2011. After we launched it we've found out that our primary user base are chatting in airport rooms, so we decided to focus on this particular segment and make an app for them. This is how App in the Air was born. We raised $150K investment from the Russian venture capital fund in August 2011 and launched the app in June 2012. 

Q: Who is  behind App in the Air?
B: Currently, we have a team of four: Sergey Pronin, our genius programmer who is coding on different languages and platforms and is responsible for the whole development; Nikita Kosholkin, our business analyst, who spends most of his time analyzing user behaviour, measuring the effectiveness of product changes and proposing new ones, Kirill Zorenkov, our Designer who is all about making the user experience as smooth as possible, and me, Bayram Annakov, responsible for product management and business development, but sometimes coding together with Sergey.

Q: What are your main markets?
B: Business & leisure flight travelers in English-speaking countries who have iPhones are our primary markets, though we plan to expand to new geographies (Asia - 5 times growth for the last 10 years) and to new platforms (Windows Phone and Android).

Q: How's been the market and user reception so far?
B: We have launched the app in June, 2012 - since that time we have 60 000 downloads (January, 2013), we got featured by the media: we are among Business Insider's 100 Greatest Apps and also Gizmodo UK Essential Apps of June to name a few... 

Q: Any anecdotes you might wish to share?
B: Do you know the most popular tip for Chicago Airport? "Don't forget your son Kevin at home. He'll most likely have to fend off burglars on his own." (a reference to the Home Alone movie!). 

Another one is that we had a user who made 90 flights in last four months (almost 1 flight a day!) and helped us find a bug that we hadn't even thought about. We decided to release a special "Limited Edition" version for him with a special badge on app icon to show our gratitude for all his help! :) 

Q: What is your long term vision for your project?
B: We want to be #1 source of official & unofficial information for every traveler to make his/her experience less stressful. We want to achieve it by flight alerts, tips & chat (users can actualy send questions via live chat to the App in the Air team) and by crowd-sourcing flight information from our users in addition to using official sources of flight information. 

We want to be the ultimate App in the Air.. and before the air! :)


And indeed, the future looks promising, riding the wave of success the App in the Air team is preparing to branch out and develop some of their most popular features into stand-alone apps for all those travelers that don't need a comprehensive travel management tool but are looking to sort out only specific parts of their travel experience...stay tuned because we'll revisit App in the Air in the near future for sure...!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Russian airlines round-up (2/2/13)

 Aeroflot: a perfectly fit 90-year old

This week marks a remarkable anniversary for Russian airlines: on 9th February 1923 Aeroflot, the former Soviet flag carrier and still the largest airline of Russia, was founded.

Yes! that means the dean of Russian airlines is turning 90!

Although Aeroflot has had its ups and downs, as its history is inevitably linked to that of its country, there are few airlines in the World that have such a long history of continuous operations.

Its image might not have fully recovered yet among the Western public after the chaotic late-Soviet and post-soviet years, when everything seemed to be falling apart...but today's Aeroflot is a totally different beast: new aircraft, levels of service on a par with the major international airlines, membership of Skyteam and even a website with a really cool design and truly innovative user interface!

If you wish to see more of Aeroflot's history, the Huffington Post has posted some very interesting pictures of Aeroflot's 90 years of history!

On unrelated news, a Russian airline that is unlikely to get to 90 is Red Wings, that has just seen its air operator license withdrawn by Russia's aviation regulator, Rosaviatsiya (Росавиация). This measure was already expected and follows the accident of one of Red Wings Tupolev Tu-204 at Vnukovo airport on 29th December. Five crew members died and three others were seriously injured, in addition to another person injured on the ground, when the Tu-204 aircraft hit a motorway just outside the airport perimeter.

For images of the Red Wings Tu-204 accident at Vnukovo airport, see this article on Russian daily Vedomosti.

Red Wings airlines was not a large airline, but was strong on some domestic routes such as that between Vnukovo airport and Makhachkala, in the Republic of Daguestan, in the Caucasus, where it had a 50% market share.

It is also uncertain what is going to happen with Red Wings' fleet of 8 Tu-204 aircraft. Those are among the latest aircraft to have been designed in the Soviet era and it is unlikely they are going to be worth much in the market now that most Russian airlines are opting either for more modern Western aircraft or for new-generation Russian aircraft such as the Superjet and the upcoming MS-21.

And meanwhile, in Russia's Siberian expanses, Yakutia Airlines took delivery of the first Bombardier Q400 airliner that enters service in Russia. The Siberian airline, that has three of the type on order, covers many regional routes in the sparsely populated Republic of Yakutia (also known as the Sakha Republic), the largest of Russia's regions. And in Russia, "large" means really "huge", because at over 3,000,000 Sq Km. Yakutia is more than 12 times the size of the United Kingdom!