Minister Forecasts 10% Drop in 2009 Air Travel

The country's transportation minister forecasts a 10 percent drop in civilian air travel next year, pledging on Tuesday to enact government support measures and guarantee flights despite pressure from the financial crisis.

"We anticipate that demand in this sector will fall 10 percent in 2009," Transportation Minister Igor Levitin told an industry round table.

He named civilian aviation and rail shipping as the segments of the transportation industry worst affected by the crisis.

"Above all, we need to see more demand. ... But I think in the first half of 2009 we will not see this [downward] trend go back to levels seen earlier in 2008. Indeed, there could be sharper falls," Levitin said.

The government has created a new state carrier, Russian Airlines, to absorb up to 11 airlines crippled by the financial crisis.

Levitin said the government, through Russian Airlines, would guarantee the flights of any carrier unable to maintain its schedule. "All the firms who can't complete scheduled flights will get government support."

At a government meeting last week, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov pledged an emergency package of state loans to the industry worth 30 billion rubles ($1.07 billion). He named Aeroflot, Transaero and Russian Airlines as the main recipients of the loans.