Transaero Airlines was formed on December 28, 1990 as the first private airline approved for scheduled air services within Russia. Charter services began on November 5 1991 between Moscow and Tel Aviv. Their first equipment even still had the CCCP Soviet prefix. They leased TU-154s and other Soviet era equipment from the Air Force and Aeroflot itself but their first actual aircraft was a new 1990 build Ilyushin Il-86, which became RA-86123, in July 1992 when the CCCP prefix was consigned to the dustbin of history. A second IL-86 was also acquired (RA-86124) but this aircraft was sold to Aeroflot by 1994 leaving only the sole widebody in the fleet. RA-86123 was christened as 'Moskva' in honour of the airline's home city and operating base of Moscow Sheremetyevo.
Scheduled domestic services began in January 1993 and by the end of the year it was operating scheduled international flights to Tel-Aviv. This was a flavour of the airline's future in which widebody international services to Mediterranean hotspots would feature heavily. Unlike its contemporaries Transaero had its eye on being a truly modern airline with western not ex-Soviet equipment. In March 1993 it was able to acquire a pair of Boeing 737-2C9s on lease (both ex-Luxair frames), which became RA-73000 and RA-73001 at a time when Western aircraft inside Russia were almost unheard of.
A further trio of 737-200s (all ex-British Airways aircraft) were registered in Latvia and operated in conjunction with the Latvian charter airline Riga Airlines (RiAir). Even more impressively Transaero leased in new Boeing 757s from April 1994. Leased from GPA EI-CJX and CJY were joined in 1995 by three further Irish registered aircraft leased from ILFC (EI-CLM, CLU, CLV). In 1995 Transaero started the first frequent flyer programme in Russia and was proving a strong competitor to the ailing Aeroflot.
Despite the arrival of Boeing 757s and DC-10s the young Il-86 was kept in the frontline fleet. In fact in 1997 RA-86123 gained a special livery to celebrate the 850th anniversary of Moscow. The 5 was emblazoned in red to also markout 5 years of IL-86 operations.
Unfortunately for the fledgling airline on August 17, 1998 the entire Russian economy was hit by what became known as the Ruble crisis, which led to a catastrophic devaluation of the currency and Russia defaulting on its debt. The impact on the economy was massive and affected air travel correspondingly. Worse as Transaero's fleet was predominantly leased from Western lessors the devaluation of the Ruble had a heavy impact on the cost of the aircraft the airline was flying.
Initially operations were not too badly affected. The airline operated 18,729 scheduled flights in 1998 carrying 1,285,000 passengers, which was only a 5% decline on 1997. At the same time, the number of passengers on the routes between Moscow and Berlin, Tel Aviv, Frankfurt, Astana, Kiev, Kishinev, Tashkent, and Odessa actually increased.
The airline achieved other notable milestones in 1998. It opened a new route between Moscow and London and also became the first airline in Russia to operate the 737NG when a pair of 737-700s were leased from BIAL in April and June respectively registered N100UN and N101UN. It also became the first airline to operate the cross-polar flight connecting Moscow-Krasnoyarsk-Toronto-Newark.
It would enter the 2000s looking for new opportunities and new aircraft. The year 2000 would also mark the end of IL-86 operations. RA-86123 was leased to VASO Airlines and was with Atlant Soyuz by 2005. Retired by July 2009 she was broken up at Vnukovo in 2011.
2004. Kmoissarov, D & Gordon, Y. Russian Airlines and their Aircraft. Midland Press
Kenyon, J. 1999. Transaero Jet Under Arrest for Debts. The Moscow Times
1999, May. Transaero Airlines: 1998 Main Results and 1999 Prospects and Tasks. PRNewswire
1998 Russian Financial Crisis, Wikipedia
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: