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Just Passing Through?
International sporting events and Russia’s airport infrastructure.
By Anna Nazarova and Oleg Bolashev

Wherever you are in the world- the efficiency of Business Aviation will depend strongly on the ground handling services available at any given airport. But what if there simply were no airports available?

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union- Russia has experienced a worrying decay of its infrastructure. The country inherited a developed airfield network that has reduced significantly by more than two thirds over the last 20 years from 1-300 airports at the collapse of the Soviet Union to just 329 airports today. Many regional and local hubs within the country are on the verge of extinction – and it’s ultimately these hubs that are so important to general aviation within the country.

The government is attempting to invest and modernize the airport infrastructure- and to an extent it has managed to slow the process of aviation infrastructure degradation a little - but there is currently no talk of note about reviving the airfields of what have today become isolated regions. It’s clear that what is required for most of the airports is a complete re-build.

Russia’s situation is- of course- very different from the United States where the number of GA airfields vastly outnumbers those accessed by the airlines. Russia has no Business Aviation-dedicated airports. Essentially- commercial aviation airports are built first and then are adapted for Business Aviation use.

The patchy concentration of businesses in Russia also neutralizes the need for a comprehensive regional airport structure. Unlike within developing countries like China- Russia’s big businesses are not spread among several financial and industrial centers- but concentrated in and around Moscow. Businessmen tend to have less need to fly to the outlaying regions- and that’s why - for now - most airfields located far from the capital are likely to continue to decay.

RAY OF HOPE?
It’s not a true reflection to conclude that only industrial- economic or agricultural booms are able to change the current trend in Russia- however. The nation has some significant International events that it will host over the coming years- and that will demand some improvement to infrastructure there. As a result- significant funds are allocated for building additional terminals and airport service facilities.

Kazan- for example- will host the World Summer Universiade in 2013. As a result- the large-scale modernization of Kazan airport duly began in 2010. A new $35m passenger terminal is to be opened in autumn 2011. Then the old terminal will be demolished to give space to a modern one.

The plans also include a $10m reconstruction of Terminal 1. Further- long-standing talks about Formula 1 (F1) coming to Russia - which date back to 1987 - finally culminated in an official contract being signed recently. Russia will welcome F1 to Sochi in 2014. (Worth mentioning is that there have been several projects for a potential Russian Grand Prix- including the creation of a racetrack near Sheremetyevo airport (Moscow). However the final agreement stipulated the track should be built in Imeretin Valley where construction is already underway for the Winter Olympics - also scheduled for 2014.)

While Sheremetyevo would have adequately managed the increased passenger through-flow during F1 race days- Sochi airport will need full reconstruction to manage the anticipated visitors. As mentioned- the Winter Olympics is another reason for the airport’s expansion.

Krasnodar Krai airport’s owner (Bazel Aero company Director General Sergey Likharyov) predicts that during the Winter Olympics Sochi airport will receive hundreds of flights. “We expect up to 60 flights per day - and that only factors state officials. Double that number for Business Aviation flights. It’s still too difficult to predict the exact number- but there could be hundreds of flights daily-” he forecast.

In the past- the lack of Business Aviation terminals has been the backdrop for negative stories relating to monopolist companies who have got away with charging some exorbitant prices for their handling services. Interestingly- Sochi itself was at the center of one such story when the International Olympics Committee delegation complained of a one-day visit to the airport costing 7-000 Euros in handling fees- whereas the same services in Europe had cost only 800 Euros.

Likharyov- however- refutes the claims. “The cost was many times lower. I can’t tell you the exact sum… The prices on ground services in Sochi airport are almost the same as in Novosibirsk and Ekaterinburg.”

Russia’s United National Business Aviation Association vice president Yevgeniy Bakhtin remarks- “The question of excessive prices can be solved only by introducing competition - as has clearly been seen in Moscow. While only one Business Aviation complex existed- the prices were stable and high. After the creation of Business Aviation complexes in Sheremetyevo- Domodedovo and Ostafievo- the prices fell – by 15% (versus prices in 2009).”

LAST BUT DEFINITELY NOT LEAST…
Of course- we haven’t yet mentioned another huge global- multi-venue event that will demand regional airport infrastructure improvements: Russia also won the right to host the FIFA World Cup 2018 (Soccer). Such is the multi-venue nature of World Cup 2018 that it will span two parts of the world – Europe and Asia. And while large cities won’t have too many problems handling the higher anticipated passenger flow- that prospect will pose quite a challenge for some of the smaller regional airports.

And so- while the spread of commerce within Russia (or lack of it) isn’t likely to enforce the development of the regional airport network in the near-term- some of the upcoming big international events will enable some of that development- with new complexes being built and significant funds allocated to improvement of existing airports.

The question then will be whether the newly updated facilities will stand empty and largely un-used after the events they’ve been built to facilitate? Business Aviation will continue to utilize airports serving the regions that are generating business.

It remains to be seen whether the legacy of the international events due in Russia will ease life for Business Aviation in different regions of the country.

Anna Nazarova is the editor in Chief for Moscowbased Jet Magazine- Russia’s expert Business Aviation publication. She can be contacted at anna.a.nazarova@gmail.com

Oleg Bolashev is an aviation journalist covering both civil and military aviation. He is the editor at Jet magazine and AviationToday.ru website. He can be contacted at email: o.bolashev@googlemail.com


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