The Russian ground support industry is on the verge of big changes, amid the ever-growing attention given to the country’s problematic aviation industry.
Recently Aeroflot, Russia’s flag carrier and largest airline, and the Sheremetyevo International Airport, Russia’s second largest airport, announced plans to establish the country’s largest ground support company.
The new as-yet unnamed joint venture will specialize in providing ground support services for Aeroflot at SVO, located 18 miles from Moscow, as well as the air carrier’s partners in the SkyTeam alliance. Aeroflot’s partners at the airport include a varied lot: Air Europa; Air France; Alitalia; China Airlines; China Eastern Airlines; China Southern Airlines; Czech Airlines; Delta Air Lines; Kenya Airlines; KLM; Korean Air; TAROM Romanian Air Transport and Vietnam Airlines.
It will no doubt be a busy operation. Aeroflot alone operates domestic and international passenger service to 109 destinations in 53 countries, mainly flown from its hub at SVO.
According to Michael Vasilenko, general director of SVO, the hope is a successful debut at SVO may start an expansion to other Russian airports, most of which currently experience a lack of quality ground support services.
Until the move with SVO, Aeroflot had been providing its own ground support for its aircraft and SkyTeam members.
However, a devastating ice storm that paralyzed SVO during last year’s busiest winter travel period ahead of the New Year’s holiday began to change that.
An estimated 20,000 travelers faced delays of two days and caused some to assault Aeroflot employees. While bad winter weather didn’t help, one major factor for canceling some 70 flights from SVO and delaying hundreds of other flights was a shortage of a common winter ground support supply – deicing fluid.
MUCH TO BE DESIRED
Russian analysts believe establishing the country’s largest ground support company as well as recently announced state plans to increase funding for the country’s aviation industry is just what is needed considering that the current state of Russian aviation leaves much to be desired.
The main reason for this is the poor state of infrastructure in the majority of Russian airports, which have not been modernized for the last 20 years.
Today, the majority of Russian airports are not able to provide quality ground support services due to their outdated land bases. In addition, the number of professional companies that specialize in providing ground support services in Russia remains very small.
“The majority of Russian airports, and especially regional facilities, are unable to provide quality ground support services for modern aircraft,” says Anton Koren, CEO, Center for Strategic Research in Civil Aviation. “In addition, the industry is regulated by outdated legislation, which was developed in the 1990s and does not contribute to the development of competition in the market.”
During the Soviet era, no full-fledged ground support industry existed due to the traditional centralized and planned economy. Fully controlled by the state, there was no reason to expect any competition, innovation or any particular high work level in the market. At the same time, the country had only one “official” airline anyway – Aeroflot.
After the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in the 1990s, however, hundreds of small airlines were established, which naturally created a demand for ground support services.
At that initial stage, most new carriers preferred to sign agreements with airports. Later, some airlines started working with a handful of specialized operators. Among the country’s largest ground handling operators are such companies as Vnukovo Handling started only seven years ago and RusAero started in 1994.
Meanwhile, despite the shortage of professional ground support operators, the demand for high-quality ground support services has significantly increased recently. One major reason is that the country’s airliners are buying new aircraft - and not relying on the country’s own brands for their orders.
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