AEROFLOT, AER LINGUS HOLDING TALKS

AEROFLOT, AER LINGUS HOLDING TALKS

Aer Lingus, the Irish Republic's national airline, confirmed it is holding talks with its Soviet counterpart, Aeroflot, aimed at establishing a link-up between the two airlines.

They have signed a "memorandum of intent" to carry out feasibility studies into a range of airline and airline-related activities, an Aer Lingus spokesman in Dublin said.The main areas, which have already been under discussion for several months, include the development of existing traffic through Shannon Airport in Ireland, technical cooperation and support services, crew and service training, and prospects for joint venture operations.

The last would be "a loose form of joint venture," with the two airlines possibly taking a financial stake in one another. However, there are no plans for a merger, emphasized the spokesman.

He added that "this is an interesting concept and we would be keen to bring it to fruition," but that it requires more research and market studies to determine whether it would be feasible.

Aeroflot, the world's largest airline, is known to be anxious to improve its operating standards so that they are more on a par with those of Western airlines, with which it is expected to come into increasing competition as East-West travel and trade increase in line with changes now taking place in Eastern Europe.

A month ago Aeroflot ordered five European Airbus A310-300 wide-bodied aircraft, with expected options on five more of the planes, which it plans to use on services to North America, Europe and the Far East as they are delivered beginning in November 1991.

The 193-seat planes, which will include 12 first class and 35 business class seats, will be the first wide-bodied aircraft in the Soviet airline's fleet.

Aeroflot is aware of criticisms of its service levels, including the low standards of comfort and reliability of its Soviet-built aircraft.

The airline recently undertook its first detailed market survey of passengers, which revealed its poor reputation for efficiency, service and safety. The survey also indicated that Aeroflot's 10 percent share of the Soviet/American market is dwindling further.

Aer Lingus, meanwhile, is anxious to forge ties with another airline in the way other European carriers have recently been doing, to help it compete with the larger carriers with bigger home markets.

Both Aer Lingus and Aeroflot fly to Shannon, and the Irish carrier believes that it could feed passengers and freight from its North American services into Aeroflot's services between Shannon and Moscow.

Aer Lingus is also building a maintenance base at Dublin Airport, which will be operational in about a year, for which it is looking to win business to service the planes of other airlines.

Aeroflot already has business connections with Ireland going back two years.

In February 1988 it entered a joint venture agreement covering several aspects of aircraft maintenance with Air Rianta, the authority that runs Shannon Airport. However, the most novel part of the agreement called for Air Rianta to build and manage a duty free shop at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport.