One Step To Modernize Russian Ground Support

The Sheremetyevo Airport and Aeroflot team up to improve the country’s outdated ground support industry.


“Currently, the majority of Russian airlines is buying foreign aircraft,” says Alex Komarov, chairman of the organizing committee for an international ground support service conference held annually in Moscow. “Due to the fact that servicing Boeings and Airbuses takes place with the use of different standards than Russian aircraft – most of which were designed during the Soviet era – there is a clear trend of the shift to new technologies of ground support throughout the country.”

Last August, Boeing estimated that Russia and the “CIS” countries – former Soviet republics, such as Belarus and Ukraine – would take delivery of more than 1,080 new aircraft over the next two decades, with 32 percent of this figure already in backlog order for the next five years. The aircraft manufacturer estimated the market value at $110 billion.

 

PROBLEMS ABOUND

Not surprisingly, however, a number of problems are squarely in the way of further developing Russia’s ground support industry. One of the most serious of these problems is the lack of modern ground support equipment at the majority of Russian airports. Most of the country’s airports can only afford to use aged equipment and do not fully meet the ground support requirements of airlines operating foreign-made aircrafts.

On a related note, the sorry conditions of runways, taxiways, aircraft parking positions and lighting equipment further constrain ground support service.

Finally, the level of automatized ground support equipment at Russian airports also remains poor, with the most difficult situations found at regional airports. Baggage handling, for example, is done by hand at these smaller airports.

According to Koren, only a couple dozen of Russia’s some 300 airports provide relatively satisfactory ground support services. Only one Russian airport is included in the international aviation review and ranking site Skytrax.

A lack of both ground support operators and funds at most airports puts the industry’s biggest hopes for further development on the state. And in light of recent air disasters, the Russian government has significantly increased its attention to these problems.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has announced plans to modernize his country’s airports and pay particular attention to determine how to improve ground support service. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has also stated government intentions to train qualified ground support specialists. In addition to a shortage of ground support workers, the majority of the country’s current ground support personnel are trained to support the old Soviet-era aircrafts.

By the end of 2011, the Russian Ministry of Transport will have completed a comprehensive survey of national airports and local airlines in order to estimate the current state of ground support services, and determine the necessary investment needed for improvement.

According to initial estimates, the annual investment needed to implement state initiatives is as much as 70 billion rubles ($2.1 billion) for the next several years. However, according to Russian aviation industry analysts, this amount is understated and could be more than two times as much.

In addition to direct investments, the government may also consider the possibility of subsidizing private banking loans for the airports.

“Russia has very high credit rates,” says Roman Gusarov, editor in chief of Avia.ru, one of the largest Russian analytical agencies in the field of aviation. “Even the most favorable credits are provided by the Russian banks at a rate of not less than 8 percent. The current state subsidies cover no more than a 25 percent of the credit rate, and the main mission of the government is to create conditions so that the rate will not be higher than 2 to 3 percent per year.”

Also, passing a long-awaited law governing airport operations may be another significant impetus for further developing Russian ground support.

The new law is expected to regulate the mechanism for funding airports, as well as abolish taxes on land and property, which is expected to help airports significantly increase investments in ground support services.

The new law may also reduce the customs duties on the imports of foreign ground support equipment to Russia, as well as to simplify formalities and reduce administrative barriers during their licensing.

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