The Promising Yet Complicated Russian Market For Ground Support Equipment

The price tag for modernizing ground support equipment at Russia’s airports could be at least $1.4 billion. That’s according to estimates from the government-run State Transport Leasing Co.

The Russian market of ground support equipment is steadily growing, reflected by the ever-increasing demand for high-quality GSE from Russia’s leading airports and the rise in the quality of provided ground support services.

In addition, the government is planning to open up competition for ground handling services at three of its largest airports through a state agency that will be responsible for attracting private companies to invest in equipment and manpower.

The main reason for this growth in recent years is straight-forward: Russia’s leading airports are in the process of modernizing airfield infrastructures and with it comes the natural purchase of new, modern GSE.

For example, the Northern Capital Gateway, an international investment consortium that includes Fraport AG Company, manages Pulkovo Airport, serving St. Petersburg. Last year, management invested about $30 million in the purchase of new ramp equipment for Russia’s third busiest airport. More equipment can only be expected since the airport has a master plan stretching until 2025 that calls for massive modernization, including constructing a new third terminal that will feature 18 gates.

Most of the funds were used for the purchase of six multipurpose Vammas PSB 5500H snow removal equipment, specifically designed to serve the runways and taxiways of airports during winter. Also, Pulkovo Airport became Russia’s first airport to purchase the Schmidt ASP 45 a vehicle designed to spray anti-icing fluid onto runways in a single pass up to, as the name implies, 45 meters or almost 150 feet.

At the same time, the Moscow Domodedovo Airport, Russia’s largest airport in terms of passenger traffic, invested about $20 million last year for the purchase of up to 50 units of various pieces of GSE.

According to Elena Selyanchinkova, the airport’s corporate affairs director, these new purchases increased the airport’s total fleet of ground service equipment to more than 3,000 units. The majority of funds were invested in the purchase of aircraft tugs, highloaders, deicers and apron buses.

“Most of the purchased equipment has no comparisons to equipment in Russia,” Selyanchinkova said. “This is due to the fact that Domodedovo became the first Russian airport, which serves such large aircrafts as Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.”

In 2003, the airport began an expansion program designed to obtain approval for wide-body aircraft operations. The runway, taxiways, and parking areas were enlarged and strengthened.

Currently, Emirates is the only airline that operates the A380 to Moscow from Dubai, which launched in 2012. Plans are also in the works, however, for hub airline Transaero, which has agreed to receive four A380s by sometime next year.

Among the most important types of GSE purchased by the airport are the Malaghan CT8000 highloader, which is designed for the delivery of flight catering to the A380, which has an elevating mechanism with a range of heights served from 118 to 330 inches; the Elephant Beta-15 DeIcer, with a telescoping jib with the length of 75 feet, as well as a high capacity SCHOPF F396, a tow tractor designed for every wide-body aircraft on the market.

In addition to Pulkovo and Domodedovo airports, up to $20 million for the last two years were invested in the modernization of airfield infrastructure and purchase of GSE by the Novosibirsk Tolmachevo Airport, Russia’s sixth busiest airport, located in Siberia.

 

PROMISING YET COMPLEX

According to the State Transport Leasing Company, Russia’s largest leasing company in the field of transportation, despite the various airport modernization plans and resulting growth of the GSE market, the current situation in the industry remains promising yet complex, particularly for what remains of domestic makers of GSE.

Although there is clearly a market for imported GSE, as a rule, the majority of Russia’s regional airports do not have enough funds to purchase it, and are essentially forced to use the production of domestic GSE manufacturers as well as that of producers from the CIS region.

At the same time, however, some modern types of GSE are impossible to use at the majority of Russian airports due to poor quality runways, including some of the largest airports serving Moscow. More than 334 runways in the country do not meet international standards and are almost unsuitable for operation. The situation at regional airports remains even more complicated.

On the plus side, the general level of wear-and-tear of GSE at Russian airports with annual passenger traffic from 100,000 to 5 million people is estimated at more than 30-35 percent. A great deal of GSE wear-and-tear, however, is centered at small, regional airports, where the GSE’s level of wear may reach even 70 percent.

On the negative side, at least for the country’s own brands of GSE, imported GSE comprises up to 50 percent of the Russian GSE market, and that market share has significantly increased in recent years. There are also some market niches where the share of imports reaches 100 percent.

Alexander Khaletsky, CEO of Kominvest-AKMT, one of Russia’s leading producers and importers of GSE, says that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country lost most of its GSE-making expertise since many such businesses were located in what is now the Republic of Belarus.

Since then, the country’s GSE production has not truly developed. The majority of local producers still manufacture outdated equipment designed during the Soviet era or simply make small-scale copies of imported equipment.

Currently, almost 70 percent of Russia’s needs for baggage tractors is met by Minsk Tractor Works, based in Belarus. Most of the company’s “tractors,” however, are largely made specifically for agriculture. The remaining 30 percent of the market for baggage tractors account from imports from the United States and Western Europe.

Self-propelled passenger stairs are very much the same case. The biggest supplier to Russia for such GSE remains the Kharkov State Aircraft Manufacturing Co., located in the Ukraine. Currently, the production at this plant is used at more than 50 percent of Russia’s provincial airports.

Finally, most of the aircraft-towing vehicles currently used in Russia is supplied by BelAZ, a Belarusian maker that got its start in 1948 manufacturing earth-moving equipment. The company started making aircraft tow tractors in 1978.

According to Dmitry Ochkinas, a senior sales manager of Cavag, one of the largest importers of ramp equipment to the Russian market, the biggest demand at the moment is for deicing machines, a curious example of GSE that is not produced in Russia, despite the country’s harsh winters.

High demand is currently also observed for self loaders, aircraft towing tractors, high-capacity snow-removal auger scrapers, water units, as well as vacuum trucks for toilet services.

 

Eugene Gerden is an international free-lance writer, who covers the global aviation and ground support industry. He writes for numerous industry publications and can be reached at gerden.eug@googlemail.com.

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