I feel I've been connected with aviation all my life since my father has always been working (and still is) in the aviation industry. I grew up with planes as an integral part of my life.

Gregory Gurtovoy came to work in civil aviation after completing his college education. He worked in the aviation industry for some time and then, in 1989, got s job in the Committee of Aviation Safety. From 1990 to 1997, he was one of the founders and then managers of the Transaero Company in Moscow. For a stretch of time he headed a British transportation consulting company. In December of 1998, he was invited to come to Kyiv to head the newly formed AEROSVIT Air Company. He has been heading the company ever since.
AEROSVIT by Ukrainian standards is considered to be quite a mature company, though it is only five years old. Independent Ukraine itself is eight years old. Five years is not a long term of development for aviation in general, but AEROSVIT has managed to become one of the first three leading air companies of Ukraine. The way to the stars lies through the thorns ("per aspera ad astra"), the ancient used to say. We shall add: also though hard work.
Gregory Gurtovoy, Director General of AEROSVIT Air Company, has been interviewed by Yevhen Budko, a Welcome to Ukraine correspondent.
WU: I know that your native town is not Kyiv, neither is it Moscow. It's Odesa. There are a lot of humorists who come from Odesa, and many of them, for some reason, prefer Moscow to Kyiv. Can I ask why is that?
Gurtovoy: Some of those famous Odesa humourists do come to Kyiv, too. I. personally, see a lot of potential in Ukraine, that's why I moved from Moscow to Kyiv.
WU: What was it in AEROSVIT that attracted you? Especially, if one remembers that you hard a job in Moscow, an established position.
Gurtovoy: I watched the development of AEROSVIT Air Company from the time of its foundation. Moscow and Kyiv, by aviation and geopolitical standards, are neighbours, you know. I knew the people who were laying the foundation of the company, it was exciting to see what they could achieve. I think the very fact that such a company has been created is significant in itself. It shows that Ukraine is on the way to the market economy. Ukraine, like many other countries of the world, should have air companies that belong both to the state and to private or corporate owners. Ukraine, its government, made it possible for people to show initiative, to found and develop a big private air company. And this company takes Ukrainians to many destinations in the world, widens their opportunities to travel. We're working out a programme the fulfillment of which should reduce prices for air tickets, and thus we hope to make aviation a means of transportation accessible to all. If we don't do it, we'll not be able to solve adequately many problems, since transportation is a sort of the circulatory system of the economy.
WU: Could you give a brief account of what has been done by the company in the past five years?
Gurtovoy: The company had its first flight on October 22, 1994, the year of its creation. It was not a commercial flight though, we just flew our first plane, a leased Boeing-737 200, from Shannon, Ireland, to Kyiv. The company has been doing well such well-established companies, as, for example, El Al, Israel. AEROSVIT handles about half of the passengers and cargoes from and to Israel.
Last year we got our third Boeing and become one of the first three leading air companies of Ukraine. In May this year, we, in cooperation with Air Ukraine, started flying to Budapest. Last summer, the number of flights to several destinations was increased. And we fly again to Lviv and Kharkiv, like we used to do earlier. AEROSVIT maintains partnership relations with 54 air companies of the world, and we plan to continue seeking partnership with the leading global and regional air companies.
In spite of the fact, that in recent years, the general economic situation in Ukraine was far from stable, which adversely affected, among other things, tourism and aviation, our company has never stopped growing. One year the rate of growth could be greater or smaller than in the previous year or in the next, but grow we did. Now we are proud to say that in five years we have carried about 700,000 passengers, currently we give employment to 500 employees, we provide rather good salaries, we don't owe anything to the state budget, we've paid all we should to it. Which does not mean we live in luxury.
WU: So, you're not likely to have strikers, are you? Could you describe in some detail how the company's personnel is trained? Safety and efficiency are essential in aviation and one can't provide them without proper training.
Gurtovoy: Yes, sure. You see, we started flying Boeing aircraft from the very start, and there were only two Boeing's in Ukraine way back in 1994. All the rest of the planes were still of the Soviet make. There were no centres where still of the Soviet make. There were no centres where pilots for Boeing's could be trained (still no such centres not only in Ukraine but anywhere in the former Soviet republics). So, we had to provide such training for our pilots somewhere abroad. In addition to professional knowledge, our pilots had to know English well enough, The Carnival Airlines, a US company, provided a facility for training AEROSVIT pilots. There were flight simulators, training equipment, training flights, plus instructions from US instructors and engineers. Our pilots piloted the first AEROSVIT flight, though there were foreign instructors on board during the flight. To keep improving their skills, our pilots and plane crews regularly go to Greece, to a training centre there, and their knowledge and skills are always highly praised.
The Aerosvit charity flight has brought Ukrainian youngsters to Israel. In the centre Lyudmila Kuchma, the wife of the President of Ukraine.
Now we have qualified instructors of our own who have been trained abroad, to train new pilots. Our company takes pains to make sure our pilots and crews are excellently trained, and so we provide top safety.
WU: Ads claim that tickets are sold at reasonable prices, that there are discounts, and so on, but it's a sad fact that in the past several years the number of Ukrainian passengers travelling by planes has dropped ten times.
Gurtovoy: Well, yes, here we have a problem. To go on developing we must have capital, but on the other hand we can't charge too much. Yet, we must provide an adequate opportunity for our potential customers to get to a destination safely and comfortably for a price a passenger can afford to pay.
WU: So, you're doing all you can and expect that passengers will continue using your company's cervices?
Gurtovoy: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that we expect passengers to keep turning up, but no in sense that we are not using all of our reserves yet. We're analyzing for work, our customers, we're trying to establish what our customers want and need and act accordingly, rather than impose our conditions on our customers. Now we have to work hard to get enough customers, it's not like it used to be in the Soviet times when quite often it was difficult to buy a ticket for the flight you wanted. Now the supply is greater than demand and that's something that not all the air companies have realized yet. I believe that Ukrainian air carriers must work in cooperation, the leading air companies must merge, must collaborate. Each of the companies has its own specialization, it flies to different destinations, that's why there is practically no rivalry among them. But we must develop and grow all us together, grow and develop technically, economically and morally. The euphoria of the first years of independence is a things realistically now, we know what we can do and what we can't, we have gained some experience in working under the conditions of the market economy, we can analyze the situation objectively and prognosticate its further development. And the way it looks makes us believe in the future close cooperation of Ukrainian air companies.
WU: Does AEROSVIT play any role in the plans of the government to turn the Boryspil airport into a major international aviation centre?
Gurtovoy: AEROSVIT being one of the biggest air companies of Ukraine will of course very actively participate in this project, all the more so since it corresponds to our desire to establish a unifield transportation system. We hope, through a combined effort with the Air Ukraine Company, the Ukraine International Airlines, to turn Boryspil into a gateway to Ukraine. At present, we build our system of routes, flights and connection flights in such a manner so as to provide the greatest convenience, efficiency foreign and Ukrainian.
WU: Tourism plays an ever growing role in today's world and aviation is an integral part of tourism. Could you say a few words about AEROSVIT and tourism?
Gurtovoy: We and tourism are inseparable. Planes can take you practically to any destination, to places you would not be able to get to by bus or train. Well, if need be, on the last leg of the journey we can provide a helicopter.
AEROSVIT has developed specialized tourist programmes and we are realizing them in cooperation with Ukrainian and foreign tourist companies. It concerns, ahead of anything else, such destinations as Israel, Greece, Cyprus, Moscow, St Petersburg in Russia, Riga in Latvia, to which great numbers of tourist are travelling. We are working on adding other destinations to our schedules.
And, of course, we promote the incoming tourism. We work in close cooperation with the Derzhkomturism, State Committee for Tourism. Together with this Committee we're working out a system of discounts on tickets for pilgrims who will travel from Ukraine to Israel in the year 2000. We'll offer our special proposals for this period of pilgrimage to Ukrainian and Israeli tourist companies, our new prices and discounts. Speaking about tourism in general, we'll do our best to make tourist trip more accessible to a greater number of people.
WU: Id it a sort of charity?
Gurtovoy: No, our company has individual charity policy. Twice already we took big groups of children from the town of Chernivtsi in Ukraine to Israel, where they stayed for some time improving their health. Accessibility and growing numbers of passengers are prerequisites of success in our business.
It's essential we use fully the potential which lies in the geographical situation of Ukraine, between East and West, North and South.
WU: As the ancient said: from the Vikings to the Greeks? But by plane, not by boat?
Gurtovoy: Exactly. We could provide good air connections between Greece and Scandinavia. Travelling by air is faster, more efficient and safer than by car or bus. Aviation will always be partner number one for international tourism.
WU: Our magazine which regularly features your ads, greets you and your company with the fifth anniversary. We hope you'll go on working even more successfully than ever before. Good luck to you and AEROSVIT Company you head.
Gurtovoy: And I, on my part, wish you all the best in your line of business. Do keep informing foreign readers about Ukraine the way you've been doing it for the past several years. Or even better. We should all of us keep trying harder and harder, shouldn't we?