Russia is preparing to launch its first air-based flight service in 2018, after two years of planning and a $10 million investment.
The company will fly up to 20,000 passengers and cargo across the Arctic Circle, including a flight from the Canadian capital, Ottawa, to the Siberian city of Murmansk, according to a statement from the Ministry of Transport.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Air Canada’s plan “is part of a strategic project to create an attractive air transportation option in the Far East.”
“It’s important to note that the country has the world’s best air transportation infrastructure, which includes the longest railway network in the world, the largest passenger airport in the former Soviet Union, and a large air traffic control center,” Peskov said.
“We will take a new approach to air travel with this new air service.”
Air Canada said it plans to begin flights by the end of March, though it’s unclear how many people will use it.
The airline has operated in the country for more than 30 years, but it hasn’t yet had a flight to Russia, and Peskov told reporters that the company would like to see its flights to reach the Far Eastern destinations, though no official date has been set.
The airline will operate a network of two terminals and one gate, but the terminals are only used for connecting flights, and the airport will remain in service, Peskov added.
Russia has struggled with its air transport system in recent years.
In 2017, Russia’s National Transportation Agency said that airlines have cut flights in half since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The agency’s head, Alexander Kudrin, said in April that Russia needed a new air carrier to replace AirTran, a U.S.-based company that was shut down in 2015.
“There’s no reason to be idle for a long time,” Kudrina said at the time.
On Thursday, the Russian government announced that Air Canada had secured $2 billion to continue operations in the nation, which has suffered a devastating winter.