Flying to Moscow
Airports can be congested and expensive, but overall service quality is good.
By Grant McLaren
Swiss-registered Bombardier Global 5000 taxis to the ramp at VKO (Vnukovo, Moscow, Russia). General Aviation Terminal 3 handles all bizav traffic at Vipport FBO.
Corporate traffic to Moscow is up dramatically over recent years with local bizav services and facilities becoming progressively better.
Moscow-area entrepreneurs and businesses are acquiring Western-built business aircraft with escalating enthusiasm, local charter markets are doing brisk business and potential for air taxi networks is materializing quickly.
With 3 primary airports-DME (Domodedovo, Moscow, Russia), SVO (Sheremetyevo, Moscow) and VKO (Vnukovo, Moscow)-Moscow has become one of the world's hottest corporate destinations.
While the operating environment is generally welcoming, costs remain high, parking can be limited and some operators are reportedly paying over $1 million per aircraft per year for scarce hangar accommodations at Moscow airports.
"The Moscow area is an ever changing phenomenon with all 3 airports relatively user friendly and doing a good job of handling, but strained to the limits, at times, as a result of high demand," says Universal Weather & Aviation Master Trip Support Specialist Phil Linebaugh.
"When operating to Moscow you're looking at $3000- 5000 in costs, plus parking, per stop and you'll face more restrictions than when operating to Europe. Moscow hotels can often sell out during conferences and sports events.
One BBJ crew could not find hotel accommodation recently and ended up sleeping on their aircraft. Another crew was faced with $1240-per-night crew rooms during a conference period in Moscow."
Moscow is no longer the bizav backwater it once was says Air Routing Ops Supervisor Matt Pahl. "It used to be rare to encounter a privately-owned Russian aircraft but now you're seeing more and more of them.
Russia has become one of the OEMs' biggest markets and these days more operators are choosing to register their aircraft in Russia rather than out of country." General aviation to Moscow is flourishing with the majority of corporate clientele choosing to operate to VKO General Aviation Terminal Vnukovo 3-one of the world's largest GA facilities.
VKO handles nearly 70% of all business aviation traffic in Russia and reports a 50% increase in 2007 operations compared with the previous year. All VKO bizav traffic is handled at Vnukovo 3 with Vipport the sole operator for ground handling of business, private and government aviation.
DME, further from the center of Moscow than VKO but with good access to the city center, is very user friendly and also offers excellent services. International support providers (ISPs) usually discourage operators from using SVO due to airline traffic congestion.
"They'll likely park you at a remote ramp at SVO and send passengers through customs in the terminal with everyone else," says Pahl. "This can take a long time and it's a hassle." Moscow's 3 airports currently handle about 80 business aircraft flights per day-a figure that exceeds European averages.
In recent years Russia-and particularly Moscow-has emerged as a highly dynamic business aviation market with corporate and private aircraft fast becoming a part of the inventory of tools used by successful entrepreneurs and companies.
According to the Russian Business Aviation Assn (RBAA) corporate flights to and from Moscow since 2002 have grown more than 30% annually. Much has changed in the former USSR since the days of communism.
Russian business tycoons are embracing benefits of business aviation and equipping themselves with the latest in modern Western-built business jets. Bombardier, Cessna, Dassault, Gulfstream and Hawker Beechcraft all report record sales in Russia these days.
During EBACE, in May, Cessna announced an order for 20 Citation Mustangs to Russian air taxi operator Dexter and Eclipse Aviation announced a new Eclipse 500 assembly facility at Ulyanovsk, Russia-the first outside the US.
While you'll still see locally built Russian bizjets here and there-typically reconfigured Tupolev TU134s and Yakovlev YAK40s and 42s-such sightings are increasingly rare.
Tips and cautions
Russian operating permits take longer to secure today than they did a couple of years ago and you'll need a minimum of 5 working days to organize landing permits for Moscow. "We've seen some easing on permits over the past few months but it continues to be somewhat of a guessing game," says Linebaugh.
Gulfstream G550 at SVO (Sheremetyevo, Moscow). SVO routinely experiences operating congestion and customs delays as this is where most airline ops land.
"While you no longer have to scan and e-mail copies of your pilot licenses and medicals, you still must send copies of aircraft registration, airworthiness certificate and insurance." He continues, "Plan to submit paperwork at least a week in advance and be aware that you may not receive your landing permit until about a day or so prior to your operation."
ISPs say boarding a Russian navigator on domestic flights is virtually no longer required. Not many years ago you'd have to pick up a navigator at Moscow and return him, first class, from your destination domestic airfield.
Today, Jeppesen publishes charts for most smaller Russian domestic airfields and many new destinations are opening up to business aviation. ATC English is good in Moscow and LED (Pulkovo, St Petersburg) although it can be somewhat broken English in other areas.
Deice services at Moscow area airports are very efficient these days and can be arranged quickly say ISPs. Over the past 2 years Russia has moved away from using a form of toxic, carcinogenic deice fluid which had long been a concern to visiting corporate operators.
It's possible to arrange and secure Russian visas on arrival in Moscow but be advised that this can take a while. "If you choose to get your Russian visa on arrival, after hours, this can take 4-5 hours," says Linebaugh.
"During working hours you're looking at 1.5-2 hours but they'll leave you in the customs area while taking your passport for visa processing." Have all your paperwork in order as Moscow and Russian authorities are very strict on having complete documentation.
You'll need a letter of invitation to secure your Moscow operating permit but you can usually arrange this from the hotel you're booked into. Problem scenarios crop up from time to time with foreign business aircraft arrivals to Moscow.
While cabotage is not an issue, for private and corporate operators transporting Russian nationals within Russia, be sure to have a Russian charter permit if you're operating a charter within Russia.
"We're aware of a recent case of a Gulfstream V operator who filed as Part 91 but was really an undeclared charter," says Linebaugh. "The aircraft was seized and the fine was in the 6 figures. Russian aviation authorities are very serious about their rules and you'll get into trouble if you're not prepared and well organized."