Aeroflot began revenue flights with its first Airbus A350-900 on Friday, making the Russian flag carrier the 30th operator of the type worldwide and first in Eastern Europe and the CIS. The airplane is the first to bear Aeroflot’s new color scheme.
The company plans this year to take 11 A350-900s. All will replace A330s, whose gradual withdrawal began in 2019. The five A330-200s and twelve -300s remaining in the fleet will exit by 2023. According to the company’s CEO Vitaly Saveliev, the move aligns with a corporate strategy “to keep our fleet younger than that of the world’s largest airlines… so as to ensure we maintain a competitive advantage on the very competitive sector of the market served by widebody jets.”
It remains unclear how many A350s Aeroflot will take in total. The initial agreement with Airbus called for 22 aircraft, but since signing in 2007, the sides have revised the contract several times, and the first shipment occurred six years later than originally envisioned. As of 2017, the order called for 14 A350-900s and eight A350-800s. Although Airbus removed the latter version from the offer in 2014, the Russian flag-carrier remained among the very last customers asking the manufacturer to adhere to the written obligation. At one time, the customer considered shifting to the A330-900neo, which comes with 287 seats compared with 280 in the A350-800.
The firm order now stands at 14 A350-900s. The carrier seeks to buy an additional eight and nine A350-1000s, according to recent information published on the Russian government’s site for state budget purchases. The Kremlin gave its final approval to Aeroflot to take the A350 ten months ago, on condition that in 2030, half of the flag carrier’s fleet will consist of indigenously designed and built airliners. Today, Aeroflot has 247 aircraft in the inventory—127 Airbuses, 66 Boeings, and 54 Sukhoi Superjets, meaning its share of imported aircraft stands at 78 percent. Meanwhile, Aeroflot Group, including Rossiya, Pobeda, and Aurora Airlines, fly 363 aircraft, 85 percent of which come from outside Russia. By year-end, the Group expects to have taken 400 aircraft, including 76 SSJ100s.
Plans call for the share of locally-made products to rise with the addition of Irkut MC-21s and additional Superjets. At the same time, Aeroflot management has made it clear it will not accept the Ilyushin Il-96-400M quadjet, whose first prototype officials expect to fly later this year. Instead, it intends to stay with the Boeing 777-300ER, the largest-capacity plane in the inventory since 2013. The carrier has so far received 19 of the Boeing twins and expects three more in 2020-2021. In turn, the Kremlin recently indicated that it will not approve possible Aeroflot requests for additional 737s, given it considers the indigenous MC-21 a good substitute. Meanwhile, Aeroflot has gotten permission to take about 20 A320neos to meet its immediate need for narrowbodies before the MC-21 becomes available.