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Formative years

The Tupolev ANT-20bis was used for cargo flights from Moscow to Mineralnye Vody before World War II
Responsibility for all civil aviation activities in the Soviet Union came under the control of the Chief Directorate of the Civil Air Fleet on 25 February 1932, and on 25 March 1932 the name "Aeroflot" was officially adopted for the entire Soviet Civil Air Fleet.:10 The Communist Party of the Soviet Union Congress in 1933 set out development plans for the civil aviation industry for the following five years, which would see air transportation becoming one of the primary means of transportation in the Soviet Union, linking all major cities. The government also implemented plans to expand the Soviet aircraft industry to make it less dependent on foreign built aircraft;:10–11 in 1930 some fifty percent of aircraft flying services in the Soviet Union were of foreign manufacture.:8

Expansion of air routes which had taken shape in the late 1920s,:8 continued into the 1930s. Local (MVL) services were greatly expanded in Soviet Central Asia and the Soviet Far East,:11–13 which by the end of the second Five-Year Plan in 1937 was 35,000 kilometres (22,000 mi) in length out of a total network of some 93,300 kilometres (58,000 mi).:13 The agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany relating to Deruluft expired on 1 January 1937, and wasn't renewed, which saw the joint venture carrier ceasing operations on 1 April 1937. On that date Aeroflot began operations on the Moscow to Stockholm route, and began operating the ex-Deruluft route from Leningrad to Riga utilising Douglas DC-3s and Tupolev ANT-35s (PS-35s). Flights from Moscow to Berlin, via Königsberg, were suspended until 1940, when they were restarted by Aeroflot and Lufthansa as a result of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and would continue until the beginning of the Great Patriotic War in 1941.:5


An Aeroflot PS-84 (a licence-built DC-3) at Moscow City Airport in 1940. The Lisunov Li-2, a derivative of the DC-3 would become the backbone of the fleet after the Great Patriotic War.
Under the third Five-Year Plan, which began in 1938, civil aviation development continued, with improvements to airport installations being made and construction of airports being commenced. In addition to the expansion of services between the Soviet Union's main cities, local routes (MVL) were also expanded, and by 1940, some 337 MVL routes saw operations on a scheduled basis. Serial production of the PS-84 (licence-built DC-3s) commenced in 1939, and the aircraft became the backbone of Aeroflot's fleet on mainline trunk routes. When the Soviet Union was invaded by Nazi Germany on 22 June 1941, the following day the Sovnarkom placed the Civil Air Fleet under the control of Narkomat, leading to the full-scale mobilisation of Aeroflot crews and technicians for the Soviet war effort. Prior to the invasion, the Aeroflot network extended over some 146,000 kilometres (91,000 mi), and amongst the longest routes being operated from Moscow were those to Tbilisi (via Baku), Tashkent and Vladivostok.[10]:13 Aeroflot aircraft, including PS-35s and PS-43s, were based at Moscow's Central Airport, and amongst important missions undertaken by Aeroflot aircraft and crews included flying supplies to the besieged cities of Leningrad, Kiev, Odessa and Sevastopol.:14 During the Battle of Stalingrad, between August 1942 and February 1943, Aeroflot operated 46,000 missions to Stalingrad, ferrying in 2,587 tonnes (5,703,000 lb) of supplies and some 30,000 troops. Following the defeat of the Wehrmacht, some 80 Junkers Ju-52/3Ms were captured from the Germans, and were placed into the service of the Civil Air Fleet, and after the war were placed into regular service across the Soviet Union.[10]:15 Whilst civil operations in European Russia west of the front line, which ran from Leningrad to Moscow to Rostov-on-Don, were prevented from operating because of the war, services from Moscow to the Urals, Siberia, Central Asia, and other regions which were not affected by the war, continued.[10]:15–16 By the end of the war, Aeroflot had flown 1,595,943 special missions, including 83,782 at night, and carried 1,538,982 men and 122,027 tonnes (269,023,000 lb) of cargo.:16

Post-war operations

After its introduction in 1954, the Ilyushin Il-14 operated on Aeroflot's All-Union services.
At the end of the war, the Soviet government went about repairing and rebuilding essential airport infrastructure, and it strengthened the Aeroflot units in the European part of the Soviet Union. Aeroflot had by the end of 1945 carried 537,000 passengers, compared with 359,000 in 1940.[10]:16 The government made it a priority in the immediate postwar years to expand services from Moscow to the capital of the Union republics, in addition to important industrial centres on the country. To enable this, the government transferred to Aeroflot a large number of Li-2s, and they would become the backbone of the fleet.[10]:17

The Ilyushin Il-12 entered service on Aeroflot's all-Union scheduled routes on 22 August 1947, and supplemented already existing Li-2 services. The original Ilyushin Il-18 entered service around the same time as the Il-12, and was operated on routes from Moscow to Yakutsk, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Alma Ata, Tashkent, Sochi, Mineralnye Vody and Tbilisi. By 1950 the Il-18 was withdrawn from service, being replaced by Il-12s.:18,20 MVL and general aviation services received a boost in March 1948, when the first Antonov An-2s were delivered and entered service in Central Russia. Development of MVL services over latter years was attributed to the An-2, which was operated by Aeroflot in all areas of the Soviet Union.

Aeroflot's route network had extended to 295,400 kilometres (183,600 mi) by 1950, and it carried 1,603,700 passengers, 151,070 tonnes (333,050,000 lb) of freight and 30,580 tonnes (67,420,000 lb) of mail during the same year. Night flights began in the same year, and the 5th Five-Year Plan, covering the period 1951–1955, emphasised Aeroflot expanding night-time operations, which vastly improved aircraft utilisation. By 1952, some 700 destinations around the Soviet Union received regular flights from Aeroflot.[10]:20 On 30 November 1954, the Ilyushin Il-14 entered service, and the aircraft took a leading role in the operation of Aeroflot's all-Union services. The number of passengers carried in 1955 increased to 2,500,000, whilst freight and mail carriage also increased, to 194,960 and 63,760 tons, respectively. By this time, Aeroflot's route network covered a distance of some 321,500 kilometres (199,800 mi).:21


Aeroflot became the first airline in the world with sustained jet aircraft service, when it introduced the Tupolev Tu-104 in 1956.
The 20th Communist Party Congress, held in 1956, saw plans for Aeroflot services to be dramatically increased. The airline would see its overall activities increased from its then current levels by 3.8 times, and it was set the target of the carriage of 16,000,000 passengers by 1960. In order to meet these goals, Aeroflot introduced higher capacity turbojet and turbine-prop aircraft on key domestic routes, and on services to Aeroflot destinations abroad. A major step for Aeroflot occurred on 15 September 1956 when the Tupolev Tu-104 jet airliner entered service on the Moscow-Omsk-Irkutsk route, marking the world's first sustained jet airline service. The airline began international flights with the type on 12 October 1956 under the command of Boris Bugayev with flights from Moscow to Prague. The aircraft placed Aeroflot in an envious position, as airlines in the West had operated throughout the 1950s with large piston-engined aircraft.[10]:21[11]:44[12] By 1958 the route network covered 349,200 kilometres (217,000 mi), and the airline carried 8,231,500 passengers, and 445,600 tons of mail and freight, with fifteen percent of all-Union services being operated by jet aircraft.:23

Aeroflot introduced the Antonov An-10 and Ilyushin Il-18 in 1959, and together with its existing jet aircraft, the airline was able to extend services on modern aircraft to twenty one cities during 1960.[10]:23 The Tupolev Tu-114, then the world's largest airliner, entered service with the Soviet carrier on 24 April 1961 on the Moscow-Khabarovsk route; covering a distance of 6,980 kilometres (4,340 mi) in 8 hours 20 minutes.[10]:24 The expansion of the Aeroflot fleet saw services with modern aircraft being extended to forty one cities in 1961, with fifty percent of all-Union services being operated by these aircraft. This fleet expansion also saw the number of passengers carried in 1961 skyrocketing to 21,800,000.[10]:24


Aeroflot became the first airline to operate the first regional jet, the Yakovlev Yak-40, in 1968.
Further expansion came in 1962 when both the Tupolev Tu-124 and Antonov An-24 entered regular service with Aeroflot on various medium and short-haul routes. By 1964, Aeroflot operated direct flights from Moscow to 100 cities, from Leningrad to 44 cities, and from Kiev to 38 cities. The airline also operated direct flights from Mineralnyie Vody to 48 cities across the Soviet Union, denoting the importance of the operation of holiday aircraft services to Aeroflot.[10]:26 Statistics for the same year showed Aerfolot operating an all-Union route network extending over 400,000 kilometres (250,000 mi), and carrying 36,800,000 passengers.

By 1966 Aeroflot carried 47,200,000 passengers over a domestic route network of 474,600 kilometres (294,900 mi). For the period of the 8th Five-Year Plan, which ran from 1966–1970, Aeroflot carried a total of 302,200,000 passengers, 6.47 billion tons of freight and 1.63 billion tons of mail.[10]:27 During the Five-Year Plan period, all-Union services were extended over an additional 350 routes; an additional 1,000 MVL routes were begun, and 40 new routes were opened up with all-cargo flights.[10]:27–28 The year 1967 saw the introduction into service of the Ilyushin Il-62 and Tupolev Tu-134, and in September 1968 the Yakovlev Yak-40 regional jet began operations on short-haul services. By 1970, the last year of the Five-Year Plan period, Aeroflot was operating flights to over 3,500 destinations in the Soviet Union, and at the height of the 1970 summer holidays season, the airline was carrying approximately 400,000 passengers per day, and some ninety percent of passengers were being carried on propeller-turbine and jet aircraft.[10]:28

Expansion of international flights

Flag of Aeroflot
In January 1971, the Central Administration of International Air Traffic (Russian: Центральное управление международных воздушных сообщений) (TsUMVS) was established within the framework of IATA, and became the sole enterprise authorised to operate international flights. Abroad, the airline was known as Aeroflot Soviet Airlines. In 1976, Aeroflot carried its 100 millionth passenger. Its flights were mainly concentrated around the Soviet Union, but the airline also had an international network covering five continents: North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. The network included countries such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Spain, Cuba, Mexico and the People's Republic of China. Since the 1970s some transatlantic flights were flown using Shannon Airport in Ireland as an intermediate stop, as it was the westernmost non-NATO airport in Europe.[citation needed]

Aeroflot service between the Soviet Union and the United States was interrupted from 15 September 1983 until 2 August 1990, following an executive order by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, revoking the Aeroflot's license to operate flights into and out of the United States following the downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by the Soviet Air Force. At the start of the 1990s Aeroflot reorganised again giving more autonomy to territorial divisions. REG Davies, former curator of the Smithsonian Institution, claims that by 1992 Aeroflot had over 600,000 people operating over 10,000 aircraft.By 1967, Aeroflot amassed a fleet equal to that of the largest American carriers combined.

Other functions

Aeroflot also performed other functions, including aeromedical, crop-dusting, heavy lifting for the Soviet Space Agency, offshore oil platform support, exploration for natural resources, support for construction projects, transport of military troops and supplies (as an adjunct to the Soviet Air Force), atmospheric research, and remote area patrol. It operated hundreds of helicopters and cargo aircraft in addition to civil airliners. It also operated the Soviet equivalent of a presidential aircraft and other VIP transports of government and communist party officials.[6][11]:94

Aeroflot was also responsible for such services as ice patrol in the Arctic Ocean and escorting of ships through frozen seas, oil exploration, power line surveillance, and transportation and heavy lifting support on construction projects. For the latter tasks, Aeroflot used, in addition to smaller helicopters, the Mi-10 flying crane capable of lifting 11,000 to 14,000 kilograms. Hauling of heavy cargo, including vehicles, was performed by the world's largest operational helicopter, the Mi-26. Its unusual eight-blade rotor enabled it to lift a maximum payload of some twenty tons.

The medium and long-range passenger and cargo aircraft of Aeroflot were also part of the strategic air transport reserve, ready to provide immediate airlift support to the armed forces. Short-range airplanes and helicopters were available for appropriate military support missions.

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