Turn for the better


The Russian business aviation market is beginning to revive following a sharp decrease in 2009, caused by the economic crisis. Local operators and professional institutions are reporting growing demand for business flights in the first months of this year, while domestic business airports continue to improve and expand their services.
According to Russia’s United Business Aviation Association, the frequency of business aviation operations in 2009 decreased by 35% compared to the previous year. Previously, the Russian bizav market demonstrated an unprecedented growth – in 2006-08 the number of business flights increased by 29%, according to the Aerotrans ground services and operational support provider. But last year’s slump brought the Russian bizav segment back to the levels of 2006. The lowest demand for business flights on the Russian market was reported in the first month of 2009, while the end of the year witnessed some stabilization and even modest recovery.

Uncertain improvements
The situation began to improve quickly in early 2010. Aerotrans estimates, based on the statistics of unscheduled flights, that demand for bizav services started to grow rapidly in January through May. Monthly frequencies exceeded the 2007 level in February, while in May the indicator was better than in the most successful year of 2008. "It was the highest result since 2006," comments an Aerotrans representative.
The total number of unscheduled flights performed by Russian operators in the first five months of 2010 exceeded the results for the same period in 2008 by 5%, despite the European air traffic restrictions caused by the Icelandic volcanic eruption and a redistribution of charter operations initiated by the Russian authorities in early 2010. The number of flights preformed by foreign companies within the same period remained lower than in 2008.
Russian business aviation operators agree with Aerotrans’ conclusions. "In the first three month [of 2010] the number of bookings for bizav flights was growing, and the prices were growing too," says Igor Bublovsky, general director of the Moscow Sky VIP charter specialist. He hopes that the sector has passed the lowest point of the downturn, but it’s not yet clear whether the growth will be sustainable. Leonid Koshelev, head of the Russian charter operator Jet 2000, shares this view, saying that the volume of bizav services has returned to pre-crisis levels.
In fact, the current growth is being fuelled by growing demand for large aircraft, which are traditionally preferred by the Russian customers. "We don’t observe any other positive trends," says Koshelev. Bublovsky concurs, saying that large aircraft are in high demand at the moment while those customers who preferred midsize jets before the crisis have now switched to lighter aircraft.
Another trend reported by the operators is that demand for charter flights to leisure destinations is recovering faster than that for business trips. Leisure flights account for 70-75% of total charters, which is quite different from Western markets, says Bublovsky. "[Russian] customers don’t deny themselves tourist trips," he notes.

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Competing for clients
The slowdown of the Russian business aviation sector in 2009 did not halt the development of ground infrastructure. The need for better landside and airside facilities becomes more evident now that the market has started to recover.
Vnukovo traditionally remains the country’s largest business aviation airport, handling nearly 70% of all bizav traffic in Russia. St Petersburg’s Pulkovo is second largest; other centers for business flights include Moscow’s Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo, as well as some airports in southern Russia, like Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don and Sochi.
Although Sheremetyevo is not as strong in the bizav segment as Vnukovo and Domodedovo, it is developing relevant infrastructure. Avia Group, a sister company of the Sheremetyevo management firm, is about to launch the construction of a new business aviation terminal at the airport. The facility, dubbed Terminal A, is expected to open to customers within the next 12 months.
The new business terminal will have an area of about 2,700 square meters and handling capacity of 75,000 passengers a year. There will be duty-free shops, on-site customs and immigration clearance, and a variety of service and personnel facilities such as spacious arrival and departure halls, VIP departure lounges and meeting rooms, conference facilities, a bar with a view on the airside, pilot recreation and briefing areas, and a secure parking lot for 50 cars. Avia Group expects the terminal to promote business aviation at Sheremetyevo to a whole new level, increasing relevant handling capacity and providing the highest international standards of service.
Avia Group is taking other steps to increase Sheremetyevo’s attractiveness for bizav operators and clients. Last year the company completed a new hangar facility exclusively for business aviation. Owned and operated by Avia Group, it can accommodate two Airbus A319s or Boeing BBJs, or several smaller business jets. The company has also installed an airframe de-icing service using equipment from Danish manufacturer Vestergaard.
With the opening of the new terminal next year in addition to the two existing hangars, the Sheremetyevo Business Aviation Center will be fully equipped to provide one-stop-shop services to customers including passenger handling, flight planning and administration, ramp handling, into-plane fuelling, line maintenance, catering and security.
The other Moscow airports also expand the range of their services to the business aviation segment. Vnukovo’s Jet Aviation facility has recently become an independent Russian legal entity and can now perform maintenance services under an EASA 145 approval. "EASA 145 gives us greater flexibility to tailor our portfolio of aircraft services to better match our customer fleet profile and requirements," says managing director Ian Ludlow.
This facility, which was set up in 2007 as a branch of Jet Aviation Dusseldorf, provides round-the-clock technical maintenance services, including line maintenance, defect rectification and aircraft-on-ground support to operators of Bombardier, Embraer, Gulfstream and Hawker business jets. Being a part of the Jet Aviation global network, the Vnukovo-based company supports AOG requirements in Russia. It is also an authorized warranty line service for the Bombardier Challenger, Global Express and Gulfstream families.
At Domodedovo, Avcom-D Business Aviation Center this spring has completed a 48-month inspection on a Challenger 300 in compliance with the FAA and Bombardier requirements. The company also conducted F and G checks on two HS 125-700 business jets operated by the Russian company Aerolimousine. Recently, Avcom-D has performed the first lading gear overhauls at its  HS 125-700/800 maintenance facility.
Avcom-D was established in 1995 to service business aviation operations at Domodedovo airport. Now the company can accommodate up to 55 business aircraft on its ramp and in hangars. Domodedovo’s two parallel runways allow for round-the-clock bizav movements with no slot limitations. Avcom-D’s maintenance center offers line service by FAA-licensed technicians on all types of business aircraft.

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