St Petersburg is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Russia. It’s home to world-class cultural institutions like the Hermitage museum, the Mariinsky theater, and the Russian National Library. It’s also a buzzing city that runs plenty of outdoor events during the Russian summer, such as the White Night Festivals and the many arts performances on Holland Island.
The tourist potential of St Petersburg is not unknown to the Russian government that recently launched a new eVisa program for St Petersburg Leningrad. Foreigners from over 50 countries can now apply for a visa for St Petersburg online in minutes. The St Petersburg eVisa is expected to boost international tourism and streamline border checks.
In Fall 2019, three major low-cost airlines applied to operate in St Petersburg. If they were allowed to fly in and out of Pulkovo International Airport, this would become the first Russian airport to permit international carriers to manage flights outside their country of registration.
The ‘Seventh Freedom Flights’ Plan
In September 2019, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov announced the “Seventh Freedom Flights” proposal, an “unprecedented” plan for Russia that aims at opening Pulkovo International Airport to budget airlines.
3 low-cost European airlines have applied so far, but Leonid Sergeyev, the head of Pulkovo’s managing company Northern Capital Gateway, stated that many more are expected to join: “In practice, the real demand will be greater,” Sergeyev told the RBC news website.
The plan will undergo a 5-year trial period. At the end of the trial, Deputy Prime Minister Akimov foresees that the routes “could be either handed to Russian airlines or stay with the foreigners.”
The preliminary route plans estimate that foreign low-cost airlines plan to operate year-round, with 60% of flights in summer and 40% in winter. This is expected to make St Petersburg more accessible to foreigners traveling on a budget and encourage international tourism.
Currently, foreigners can travel to St Peterburg by plane, boat, and on land, and there is a wide range of entry points to St Petersburg that allow holders of the new St Petersburg eVisa to have their documents checked. In the heart of the city, tourists can also reach 4 major train stations that serve trains to and from Moscow, Finland, Central Europe, the Urals, Central Europe, and more.
Which Ones Will Be the Low-Cost Airlines Flying to St Petersburg?
So far, 3 European low-cost airlines have applied to join the “seventh freedom flights” plan:
- Ryanair (Ireland)
- EasyJet (Britain)
- Wizz Air (Hungary)
These companies applied to operate flights between St Petersburg and 33 foreign countries.
Mr. Leonid Sergeyev disclosed that an additional airline from a CIS country applied for the program in order to operate flights between St Petersburg and the United States, but he didn’t mention the company’s name.
The Reaction of Russian Airlines Operating in St Petersburg
The Russian airlines currently flying from and to Pulkovo International Airport expressed concern over the “Seventh Freedom Flights” plan. Granting the airport open-sky status would encourage competition and potentially cause a loss of profits.
Speaking to news website RBC, the head of a large Russian airline stated:
We are categorically against granting foreign companies an Open Skies regime in St. Petersburg without Russian companies obtaining similar rights in states whose carriers will fly from Pulkovo to third countries
Plans to Better Air Connections in Russia
The efforts to make Russia more accessible are not limited to St Petersburg. As part of the effort to modernize and encourage air connections to and within the country, the government has recently announced a historical renovation project that involves 40 airports in the Far Eastern Federal District region.
The works are expected to implement better transportation services for isolated areas but also support international tourism and foreign investment. In the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia is now after a “completely different level of mobility”.