Air Transport World

A decade of change: Aeroflot Russian International Airlines is a legitimate business enterprise 10 years after its rebirth.(Profile)(Company Profile)

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought many opportunities, but a core of focused, well-trained and competent managers is necessary to put structural changes into effect. After 70 years of Communism, few Russians had any real idea what the future held for the new nation, its freedom or its businesses. For the next few years, the national morale generally fell.

Aeroflot, the former ubiquitous giant responsible for nearly all nonmilitary aviation in the USSR, hit rock bottom in March 1994 when one of its A310s crashed after the pilot permitted his children to operate the aircraft. The following month, just after this nadir in the safety of Russian aviation, the government reformed the company into Aeroflot Russian International Airlines, the national carrier.

A decade later, Aeroflot legitimately can claim to be in better shape than anyone had a right to expect back then. The largely Soviet-era fleet is being updated with Western jets, the airline is being managed on commercial principles and, most recently, it has been invited to join SkyTeam, arguably the second most powerful airline alliance in the world.

Much of the credit for these developments goes to Valeri Okulov, who took the post of director general in 1997. Previously on the airline's board, he had considerable flightcrew experience and had worked in Aeroflot's training center to improve flight standards. He also was connected to then-President Boris Yeltsin's family--a fact that led many to view his appointment with cynicism.

Yet Okulov brought with him a modern and surprisingly businesslike approach--too Fast, in fact, for the staid bureaucracy he inherited. "When I took charge in 1997, I wanted to change almost everything immediately. That was a strategic mistake and I soon realized that I had to take it step by step. It takes time to make changes, particularly radical ones," he tells ATW.

He began with the management team. For the position of CFO he approached Alexander Zurabov, who had just left the post of president and CEO of Menatep Bank to start his own bank. …

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