April 03, 2019

Natalia Filyova, aviation superwoman, dies


Natalia Filyova, aviation superwoman, dies
Natalia Filyova

One of Russia’s top female entrepreneurs, Natalia Filyova, who founded the country’s number two airline, S7, died in a plane crash over the weekend. Filyova, ranked #4 on Forbes’ list of wealthiest Russian women in 2018, and was 55 years old.

Filyova co-owned the airline, known for its neon-green insignia, with her husband, Vladisav Filyov, and together they developed it into the holding S7. Natalya was the CEO. The company, a rare example of a family-owned enterprise in Russia, has been on the brink of collapse several times over the past decades, but Filyova’s financial and managerial wisdom has kept it from being nationalized or gobbled up by Russia's flagship airline, Aeroflot.

Filyova died aboard a business jet in which she was flying with her father, who also died, along with the pilot. The plane was approaching Germany's Egelsbach Airport, near Frankfurt, and the pilot gave no indication that the plane was experiencing any problems. The aircraft crashed into an asparagus field several kilometers from the landing strip and was incinerated on impact.

In another dark twist of fate, the first police car dispatched to the scene had a terrible head-on collision en route, killing a young couple and landing all three officers in the hospital.

In 1998, the Filyovs bought Sibir, then a struggling company based in Novosibirsk, for 20 million dollars. Few believed their risky venture would be successful, considering the notoriously low profit margins in the airline industry. Yet over the next decade the couple turned the company around, joined the IATA, acquired Vnukovo Airlines to expand its route map, phased out their fleet's Soviet-made Tupolev aircraft and rebranded the company into S7 with its lime-green, Boeing planes. Today the fleet numbers over 60 planes.

Described as trailblazers in the industry, S7 famously teamed up with the band OK Go to produce the first zero-gravity music video in an Ilyushin plane flown over Moscow region’s Zhukovsky test site.

Natalia Filyova was born in Novosibirsk, where she received a degree as a radio engineer. She and her husband have four children, one of whom was adopted.

“Natalia was the center of this company, she was the idealogue, the person who set goals, selected personnel, and was the leader in their tandem,” former aviation colleague Vladimir Tasun said.  Pyotr Mironenko, a long-time Russian aviation correspondent working for business website The Bell, called Filyova one of the most decent entrepreneurs he’s ever met.

She “combined humanity and the entrepreneurial spirit, the romance of aviation and the understanding of the industry’s global development trends,” said Irkutsk airport development director Andrei Andreyev.

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