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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Vladivostok Air
With the rise of air travel in the 1930s, airports started appearing around the Soviet Union for military and commercial purposes. Along with the new airports came rising levels of air travel and the creation of Vladivostok Air. The airline started as a hydroplane corporation with flights between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk starting on August 27, 1932. The airline switched to having land based aircraft with the completion of Vladivostok Airport in 1934. The move to land helped the airline add two more destinations and switch from seaplanes to Polikarpov Po-2 aircraft. The airline found early growth, but World War II quickly saw a shift in priorities for the small Soviet carrier.
The thought of linking Vladivostok and Moscow became a priority for war efforts and troop movements to fend off both Nazi Germany and Japan. Vladivostok Air operated the route with newly acquired Ilyushin Il-12s while the Po-2s were used for hauling cargo for the Soviet army. The airline was relatively stable during the war, but once again began growing following the war by converting the military route of Moscow-Vladivostok to commercial use, as well as placing an order for Antonov An-2s. Following the war Vladivostok Air also placed an order for their first helicopters, with the Mil Mi-1 and Mi-4 being used to reach eastern Soviet cities that lacked a proper airfield. The airline also saw Soviet national carrier Aeroflot take a majority share of the smaller Soviet carrier, becoming the main way for passengers to transfer between Moscow and Vladivostok without booking on two different carriers.
The jet age started for Vladivostok Air in the late 1950s with the arrival of the Tupolev Tu-104 and Tu-114 aircraft. However, Vladivostok had to first update their runway for the jet age as well as create a new terminal, all of which were completed before the arrival of the Tu-104. The alliance between Aeroflot and Vladivostok allowed Vladivostok to abandon their struggling Moscow-Vladivostok route and codeshare with Aeroflot on the flight they offered. The airline focused more on the eastern seaboard, configuring helicopters for fishing and whaling towns as well as replacing some of the older models with the newer Mi-8s. Further expansion was needed at Vladivostok Airport in the late 1970s with the arrival of the Tupolev Tu-154 in the local carrier’s fleet. The runway expansion allowed for Aeroflot to increase the number aircraft flying the Vladivostok-Moscow route, with the route becoming one of the many long haul flights for the Ilyushin Il-62.
While all was well for Vladivostok Air during the 1970s and 1980s, the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s saw the airline lose its allegiance with quickly retracting Aeroflot. The airline saw opportunity in their independence from the national carrier, ordering the Tuploev Tu-154M long range model to fly to Moscow and new international routes like Beijing, Seoul, and Hong Kong. The Vladivostok Airport went through further renovations, allowing the airport to accept international arrivals as well as expand the domestic lounge. The airline also utilized the new Russian economy to sign deals for helicopter leasings in southeast Asia.
The airline was focused on becoming a reliable carrier, retiring the older Soviet models for new aircraft like the Tupolev Tu-204 and Airbus A320 aircraft. This coupled with an exceptional safety record led the airline to become a full IATA member in 2004. Vladivostok continued to find success, becoming the largest carrier in Siberia and east Russia with over 900,000 enplanements in 2009. The airline responded by adding more aircraft, bringing the Antonov An-148 and Airbus A330 into the fleet. The year 2009 also saw the carrier pass Aeroflot in passenger experience, with the airline winning “Russia’s Airline of the Year Award” by passenger’s choice.
However, success came at the wrong time for the Russian carrier, as the economy slowed and passengers vanished. While the airline was still one of largest in Russia, Aeroflot utilized the eastern Russian carrier’s moment of weakness and acquired a majority share of Vladivostok Air in 2011 in hopes of returning them to the regional carrier they were under the previous Aeroflot management. The airline suspended international flights, and once again Aeroflot became the only carrier to operate the popular Moscow-Vladivostok route. With Aeroflot struggling under a failing Russian economy and operating multiple regional carriers, the airline decided in 2013 to consolidate carriers and merge Vladivostok Air with SAT Airlines to create a new airline called Aurora. Vladivostok Air officially ended operations on December 14, 2013. Aurora continues to operate a majority of Vladivostok’s former routes and maintains their former hub at Vladivostok with Airbus A319s, Bombardier Dash 8s and DHC-6 Twin Otters. The only change that has come to the merger is the loss of Vladivostok’s helicopter service, which was removed for cost cutting measures.
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