TBT (Throwback Thursday) In Aviation History: Kaliningrad Avia/KD Avia

Photo: Arcturus (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

With the rise of Soviet economy after World War II, airlines started appearing all across the vast country. One of these start up carrier was Kaliningrad Avia based in the Kaliningrad Oblast on the Baltic Sea. The airline officially started on October 81945 with the backing of the government run flag carrier Aeroflot. The airline utilized various Soviet model aircraft, including the Tupolev Tu-154 and Antonov AN-2 for flights between cities like St. Petersburg, and Moscow.

The airline remained under Aeroflot control through the remainder of the Soviet Union with aircraft and routes remaining consistent to match the Aeroflot fleet and route map. The big change came after 1990, when the carrier was spun off by Aeroflot and became of its own independent operator. With a fallen Soviet economy, newly named Kaliningrad Avia kept the routes to St. Petersburg and Moscow with their fleet of Tupolev Tu-134 and Tu-154 aircraft. As Russia gained momentum economically, Kaliningrad chose to add routes to other Russian markets, including Omsk, Kazan, and Chelyabinsk. While other carriers from the recently fallen Soviet Union chose to expand into Europe, Kaliningrad Avia chose to remain loyal to only the Russian market, spending most of the time focusing on staying consistent and not seeing a major reason to fly to cities outside of Russia.

Things changed at the start of the 2000s though, the carrier placed an order for used Boeing 737-300s to replace the aging Tupolev fleet and for the carrier to align with most European countries’ requirements to fly to their countries. The airline also utilized the fleet change to rebrand themselves; the carrier and their hub airport shared the same name of Kaliningrad, which led to confusion for residents on who to call for travel reservations. Kaliningrad Avia officially changed its name to KD Avia in 2004 with the airport becoming Kaliningrad Khrabrovo Airport soon thereafter. The newly named airline received their first Boeing 737 and started international service to Prague, Milan, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, and Amsterdam. The new goal of KD Avia was to utilize its placement on the Baltic Sea as a way to offer travel between the former countries of the Soviet Union and western Europe. International travel continued to expand, with Tel Aviv, Ufa, Samara, Rostov-on-Don, Kiev, Berlin, London, and Barcelona appearing on the route map as the Russian airline added up to 19 Boeing 737-300s to their fleet. Outside of their regular route map, the carrier also used their Boeing fleet for charter work, with their aircraft frequently being used on routes to Turkey, Egypt, and Greece. The airline operated all Boeing 737-300s in all economy configuration with 148 passengers.

With the success of the airline came the growing pains at their hub; the airline’s growth was too much for the small terminal at Khrabrovo and needed to be replaced. KD Avia was willing to pay for the new airport, and construction started on a new four-gate terminal with room for a dozen more hard stands behind the terminal complex. The terminal was designed to mimic what KD Avia wanted to become, an airline that utilized its location to connect western and eastern Europe. However, KD Avia’s vision was flawed, while the carrier saw a rise in traffic through Khrabrovo, it didn’t meet the airline’s expectations, mostly due to people flying direct and competition from airlines like Air Baltic and LOT Polish who were applying similar tactics to what KD Avia was doing. Despite losing money quickly, the airline continued to spend lavishly in hope of turning the carrier around. In hopes of saving money, the airline ordered 20 Airbus A320 familty aircraft to replace the old and expansive Boeing 737-300s however the airline would never receive any before it’s grounding. The monetary infusion and hopes of a fleet makeover never helped the airline and on September 4, 2009, KD Avia announced they would suspend operations on September 8th due to the Russian carrier losing its Airline Operating Certificate. In the month’s following the carrier’s grounding, both the company’s owner and executive director were jailed for intentionally bankrupting the airline by investing in pointless companies and projects that in the end caused excess debt for KD Avia. The airline officially dissolved on November 11, 2010 when the Russian court declared KD Avia bankrupt. The airline owed 11.7 billion ($356 million) robles at the time of its liquidation.

Since then the area of Kaliningrad Oblast have yet to really see the aviation impact it did during KD Avia’s years. The small region has no year round service to any western European countries and has yet to really rebound from the loss of KD Avia resulting in the small airport losing roughly 33% of its traffic in the 5 years following KD Avia’s collapse. Russian airlines have stepped up recently, with airlines like Red Wings, S7 and Belavia offering the Kaliningrad people with alternatives. As for KD Avia’s Boeing 737-300 fleet, most aircraft were unable to find new homes and ultimately were scrapped by the leasing company GECAS. Of the 19 aircraft to fly for KD Avia, only one Boeing 737-300 remains in one piece as a fire training aircraft at Lasham Airport in southwest London.

Ian McMurtry

Ian McMurtry

Ian has been an avgeek since 2004 when he started spotting US Airways Express planes at Johnstown Airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Wichita and enjoys spotting planes in Kansas City and Wichita as well as those flying at high altitudes over his home. He is a pilot with more than 40 hours of experience behind a Cessna 172, Diamond DA-20, and Piper PA-28. He flies Southwest Airlines on most of his domestic flights and Icelandair when flying to Europe. Ian’s route map spans from Iceland and Alaska in the north to St. Maarten in the south. He is a student at Wichita State University, where he will study aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Ian McMurtry