Aurora is a Russian Far East air carrier, subsidiary of Aeroflot. As of August 2016, the carrier ranks among the top ten Russian biggest airlines in terms of carried passengers. Its head office is in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Sakhalin.
Airline Background insight – Tell us about your airline. When and how was AURORA established?
AURORA is a Russian Far-east carrier, having its bases in Yuzhno – Sakhalin, Vladivostok, and Khabarovsk airports. AURORA was established in 2013 by PJCS AEROFLOT, on behalf of the Government of the Russian Federation, on the basis of the companies “Sakhalin Air Routes” and “Vladivostok Avia”. AURORA is part of the Aeroflot Group of Companies and its shareholders are PJSC Aeroflot (51%) and the Government of the Sakhalin Region (49%).
What is AURORA’s business model, main destinations, typical stage length, etc.?
Today, Aurora is the largest and fastest-growing air carrier in the Russian Far East. We strive for leadership in the region and significant positions in the transportation market within APR (Asia – Pacific Region) countries. Our main objective is to increase the mobility of the population, to ensure transport accessibility to the territories of the Far Eastern Federal District at a fundamentally higher level of comfort and efficiency.
AURORA operates in three main market segments: inter-regional, regional, and local. We perform regular inter-Russia flights (Magadan, Khabarovsk, Yuzhno – Sakhalin, etc.), as well as many international flights, such as Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, and other destinations. On top of that, we have an extensive charter program and regularly perform socially important flights for the region.
AURORA carries more than 1.5 million passengers annually. The average duration of our flights is between 2 to 6 hours. Our fleet consists of 23 aircraft: 10 Airbus A319 (128 seats), 10 DHC-8 Q400/300/200 (70/50/30 seats), 3 DHC-6 Twin-Otter 400 (19 seats). The AURORA team consists of over 2,000 people. AURORA is IOSA certified carrier and proud holder of multiple Russian awards (such as Russian Wings and others)
Who is the average AURORA passenger?
We cover all segments as our passenger is potentially any and every resident of the Far East region, as well as tourists, shift workers, seasonal workers from other regions of Russia, and APR countries. We are happy to serve everyone: people with, perhaps, not the highest income and very high seasonality; people who fly only 2-3 times a year and those commuting 1-2 times weekly.
CEO background insight
Konstantin Sukhorebrik was CEO of AURORA Airline from the very first day of the establishment of the company, in November 2013.
What is his background?
After graduation from the flight school in 1982, Konstantin’s life was forever linked with the civil aviation of Sakhalin, moving from the co-pilot of the An-24 to the head of the airline as his career evolved.
Konstantin became the first general director of the “Sakhalin Aviatrassy” airline; under his leadership, the island’s flight squadron was successfully transformed into an actual airline, starting operations of new Boeing 737, DHC-8 aircraft and opening international routes. In 2013, Konstantin started as CEO of AURORA Airlines. Under his leadership AURORA became the biggest air carrier in Russia’s Far East, successfully performing not only flights in regional and international flights, but also socially significant transportation, thus increasing the mobility of the population of the entire Far East region.
He received several gratitudes, awards, and Honorary Diplomas from the Governor of the Sakhalin Region, awarded with Medal of the Order of Merit to the Fatherland of 2nd degree and awards like “Honored Transport Worker of Russia”, “Excellent Worker of Aeroflot”.
What was the airline like when he started and how has it changed?
In its first year of operations, AURORA carried just over 44,000 passengers, and now we grew to carry nearly 1.7 million in 2019. AURORA today is among the top ten largest air-carriers in Russia. We are one of the largest employers and taxpayers in the Sakhalin Region, Primorsky, and Khabarovsk Territories.
Market insight – Tell us about the apparent niche market where AURORA operates?
Describe the commercial aviation market in Russia and how different is the Far East of Russia by comparison?
A significant difference between the Far East aviation market and the European part of Russia is that the Russian Far East is a huge territory with a relatively small population, less than 6 million people (total population of Russia is over 145 million). In terms of its solvency, the comparison is also not in favor of the Far East – income per household here is lower in comparison to the Western part of Russia.
Normally, only regional and local airlines operate in this market due to very challenging market conditions: low population density, low passenger traffic, low income of the population. We call this “social support air transportation”, which means that we are able to operate and provide affordable fares to our passengers only with the support of the local government, otherwise, we would be forced to charge much higher rates, which passengers simply cannot afford. Aircraft price is as it is, fuel is expensive for us and the more remotely an airport is located, the higher the fuel price. Our fuel costs are twice the Russian average, also much higher than abroad. Airport charges in the Far East sometimes are 13-14 times higher than in the Western part of Russia. Therefore if we calculate all the associated costs, our costs per block hour are significantly higher compared to the Western part of Russia, and this is not talking about the rest of the world such as in Europe, the USA, etc.
What is AURORA’s role in Russian aviation overall and in the Far East in particular?
AURORA is the only regional Russian carrier with a truly unique network of regional flights in the Far East region. Our network considers the transportation needs of the local population, as well as the needs of other regions of Russia which are part of the Far East region.
Let’s talk about the Dash 8 role in COVID19 and the general strategy of AURORA: How does the Dash8 fit into the general strategy of AURORA and its market?
From the very beginning of AURORA, De Havilland Dash 8 (both 300s and 400s) aircraft is our main “tool” especially when it comes to regional flights; these units cover the great majority of our regional network. In 2019, our Dash 8 fleet performed flights on 22 destinations in the Far East from all our 4 bases both regional and international flights to Kurilsk, Tokyo, Khabarovsk, and many others. Thanks to De Havilland Dash 8 technical performance capabilities, ecological parameters, and economic advantages, we can confidently choose Dash 8 aircraft over jets or similar (passenger seat) capability aircraft.
After the COVID19 impact, regional aircraft are more important with less demand, how does the Dash 8 fit into this “new reality”?
Obviously, passenger traffic decreased significantly, therefore we actively replaced A319 with Dash 8 units where we could.
Despite being a remotely located airline and operating in challenging environmental conditions, you were able to achieve the De Havilland Reliability Award as the Dash8 operator of the highest reliability in Europe and Russia – how does AURORA keep standards high and motivate your teams?
The very core of AURORA business principles is forming and leading a highly professional and stable team. Our team consists of well trained and experienced individuals who share our values, our goals, and mission.
Looking into the future: What is AURORA’s future fleet plans? Focus on regional or medium hauls?
Our development strategy foresees the simultaneous development of both regional networks and our Dash 8 fleet, also medium-haul network, and our narrow-body A320 family. We carefully evaluate Russian-made units as well.
Forecasts from officials suggest full recovery of the industry after 3-5 years, what is your view on future travel in general and for Russia?
We assume that the aviation market will return to pre-COVID condition not earlier than in the 3rd quarter of 2021, but this can only be the case if do not see a second/third or any new COVID (or other pandemics) wave this fall or upcoming spring. In case we see a new wave of the pandemic, we don’t see that traffic comes back to normal earlier than mass vaccination is available in Russia and neighboring countries.
General CEO point of view: A lot of carriers faced significant struggles during COVID19 (and still are struggling), if you knew this is coming – what would you do differently? i.e. if there is a second or even third wave? What, in your view, makes airlines successful?
Answering both questions, it is important to follow your own business strategy and long-term planning. Ambitions and innovations are important too, but only in conjunction with a reasonably conservative approach.
- Airlines should understand their part on the market and create a product that is truly in demand.
- It is important to be agile, manage risk hedging, and to prepare for any risks.
- Focus on the development of a united and very efficient team of top-management.
- For sure, the stable political and economic climate in the country and industry globally is also very important.