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Belarusian records versus German quality

Most entrepreneurial air carriers, offering better services, win competitive struggle for passengers

By Dmitry Umpirovich

Last year, the total number of passengers transported by Belavia National Airline reached one million, with Natalia Litvinova, Marketing Director of Heineken Belarus, being nominated as the millionth traveller.

“I’m a professional, so I almost live on the plane; I fly two or three times a month,” notes Natalia. Checking in for the Minsk-Berlin flight, she was surprised to be told of her status as the millionth passenger — which confers a range of privileges: a bouquet of flowers and souvenir goods, alongside a lifetime ‘gold’ card offering significant bonuses from the national air carrier. Natalia can now use the business class Belavia lounge, has an additional luggage allowance and will receive enhanced service on board.

Curiously, the German Ambassador, H.E. Mr. Christof Weil, was at the neighbouring check-in counter; he was the 1,000,001st Belavia client.

Vadim Melnik, Director of the Transport and Communications Ministry’s Aviation Department, is confident that, in 2012, the company will reach its millionth passenger in September, as Belavia plans to considerably increase its volume of passenger transportation. In particular, in spring or early summer, a new flight to Novosibirsk is to open. Meanwhile, the number of flights to other popular routes is being expanded — to Paris, Amsterdam, London and Astana.

According to Belavia’s Director General, Anatoly Gusarov, the Belarusian air company claims just over half of all domestic passengers. Moreover, other leading world airlines use the airport for transfers. Russian Aeroflot brings passengers to Minsk three times a day while Austrian Airlines has two flights daily. Moreover, Arab Etihad, Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa also use the route.

The largest German air carrier now views the CIS market as the most dynamically developing. “This year, we’ve served 60,000 passengers travelling out of Belarus, while increasing our number of weekly flights to Germany from seven to ten,” explains Joachim Brumbach, Lufthansa’s General Manager in Belarus. “All flights use one of the most contemporary planes — the Embraer-95. Moreover, we are refurbishing our plane interiors for European routes, with slim backed chairs significantly raising comfort levels.”

Last year, the most popular European routes from Minsk served by Lufthansa were Frankfurt, Munich and Geneva; New York, Washington and Beijing were among the long-haul flights most in demand (only New York is a direct route with the other two requiring a change). Lufthansa’s main hub airports are in Frankfurt, Munich and Dusseldorf.

“I’m often asked about direct routes by passengers,” smiles Mr. Brumbach. “Negotiations continue regarding a direct flight from Munich to Minsk, but demand isn’t yet sufficient to completely fill the plane. According to an agreement between Germany and Belarus, our flights are restricted to ten a week, so these are all routed via Frankfurt to allow passengers the maximum opportunity to reach other destinations. If we allocated at least three of these flights for a direct route to Munich, connecting opportunities would fall considerably.”

At present, the average occupancy of Lufthansa planes in the Belarusian-German direction is 75 percent; figures have risen as prices have fallen. The airline appreciates that passengers may prefer to travel via Moscow, Kiev, Vienna and Warsaw, rather than Frankfurt, so competition is great, with air carriers enhancing their quality, reducing prices and offering new services — to the benefit of passengers.

The struggle for clients is rather like a tug of war, with strategies chosen carefully. Belavia recently introduced a loyalty card which can be used to collect ‘points’ at various outlets, qualifying the bearer eventually to a free flight. Bonuses automatically accrue.

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