Sberbank is moving from finance to operations in Russia’s booming air travel market.

The bank has placed an order with US aerospace giant Boeing for a dozen passenger jets. The deal – worth $1bn at current catalogue prices – will see Russia’s biggest lender supply aircraft to Transaero under its first ever operational leasing agreement in the industry.

Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender, and Sberbank Leasing, its wholly-owned subsidiary, have agreed to buy 12 Next Generation 737-800′s passenger jets from Boeing, the companies said in a joint statement late on Thursday. The aircraft are intended for operational leasing under Sberbank’s contract with Transaero, one of the bank’s key corporate customers.

Sberbank has provided support to Russian airlines with financial leasing deals in the past, but is only now venturing into operational leasing of aircraft, Sberbank Leasing said. “The Boeing contract will lay the groundwork for the development of an environment for finance and operational leasing of imported aircraft in Russia… Sberbank will follow international standards for airplane leasing allowing it to provide air carriers with modern, world-class finance solutions.”

German Gref, Sberbank chief executive welcomed the agreement as “a very significant step forward” and “evidence of Sberbank’s commitment to aviation finance.”

The deal “substantially contributes to the development of trade and economic relations between Russia and the US,” he added.

Boeing has established strong ties with Russia where the company sources titanium used in the manufacture of aircraft. Much of the titanium makes its way back to Russia as domestic air carriers import western jets to upgrade their antiquated fleets.

Transaero has ordered 20 Boeing jets in the past year alone as it phases out use of Russian built passenger aircraft.

The Boeing deal positions Sberbank to play a more active role in the Russian airline industry at a time when passenger traffic is soaring.

Russian air carriers transported 74m passengers in 2012, a 15 per cent increase on 2011, according to the Federal Air Transport Agency.

Transaero transported saw demand rise by 22 per cent last year to 10m passengers – ahead of the national average after expanding its network of routes. The company needs more planes and better financing terms as it increases flight frequency to popular destinations.

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, FT

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