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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aeroflot to Scale Back Winter Flights

Facing a flat market, increasing fuel costs and a seasonal dip in business, Aeroflot announced Tuesday it is drastically scaling back winter flights and hiking ticket prices on some routes.

The airline also said it would cancel most bulk ticket sales to travel agents, which had become unprofitable, and attempt to "dispose" of unnecessary Russian-made airliners while acquiring new American-made Boeings for use on international routes.

During the winter period, which lasts from October to the New Year, Aeroflot will fly 466 flights per day, a 33 percent cutback from their peak summer schedule of 700 flights per day. Last winter Aeroflot flew 540 flights per day.

Officials said at a news conference Tuesday that price increases would mostly affect domestic routes, all of which are currently unprofitable.

Prices had been kept artificially low to maintain passenger volumes as the ruble has devalued since year, they said.

"The cost of providing the service has increased, mostly due to the increase in fuel prices, and so the price of tickets must increase as well," said Nikolai Ivanenko, Aeroflot deputy director for commercial operations.

Officials could not say by how much prices would go up.

The airline blamed in part the Russian government for the price increases, saying the state was forcing airlines to bear the burden of higher fuel costs.

"In other countries, the state places most of the burden of fuel price increases on the shoulders of motorists, but in Russia it puts it on the airlines," Yury Mnatsakanov, director for commercial operations, said. "As a result, we have been made uncompetitive."

Aeroflot, which posted a modest profit last year, said it expects to barely wind up in the black this year.

To do so, the air carrier is paying more attention to international flights by adjusting its international schedules to provide more comfortable connections for passengers flying from Western Europe to Southeast Asia via Russia.

The airline said passenger loads in September reached a level of 63.9 percent, a figure 8.4 percent higher than the same month last year.

Despite this improvement, officials said it would be necessary to cut back the frequency of some domestic flights, especially those to the Russian Far East. The airline loses about $5,000 on each of those flights.

Mnatsakanov also said flights to the United States had become unprofitable because U.S. visa-issuing authorities in Moscow had cut back the number of visas issued.

"In any one group of passengers, a large percentage is refused a visa," Mnatsakanov said. "Our flights to North America are leaving half-empty as a result, and we are losing huge amounts of money."

Meanwhile, Aeroflot said it has more planes than it needs. It intends to slash its current fleet of 104 passenger planes down to 77, but is not sure how it will make the cuts, Mnatsakanov said.

"We are examining a few options, including direct sales of the aircraft or creating a subsidiary to operate them on charter flights," he said.

The airline wants to get rid of some aging Tu-154s, which will soon be banned from European airports because of new noise and pollution regulations, as well as a few widebody Il-86s, which are too large for the current level of demand on the routes they fly, he added.