As more bizjet traffic goes to Russia, service improves
More frequent visits by private aircraft have brought ease in paperwork and better ground handling standards.
By Grant McLaren
Austrian-registered Bombardier Challenger 300 at SVO (Sheremetyevo, Moscow, Russia), where a new general aviation terminal opened recently.
Operations to Russia are easier than they were a few years ago—at least in most ways. Permit lead times are down and there's now more widespread familiarity with the unique needs of general aviation.
Infrastructure and aircraft service capability are the best they've been and credit is generally available, or arrangeable, across the country.
On the infrastructure front, new general aviation terminals (GATs) have opened recently at SVO (Sheremetyevo, Moscow, Russia) and LED (Pulkovo, St Petersburg, Russia). Meanwhile, GA traffic to and within Russia continues on the upswing and the region remains a popular business destination.
On the flip side, there has been recent tightening in terms of visa requirements, and parking availability has become more of an issue at certain locations.
"We've benefited from significant changes since Russian permit changes were implemented recently," says Universal Weather & Aviation Trip Support Specialist Ray Hoover. "Not only are permit lead times now shorter, but revision requirements in many cases are more flexible than before."
Jeppesen Intl Vendor Relations Mgr Eastern Europe, Russia & Africa Ian Humphrey notes, however, that there have been recent changes to crew visa on arrival availability at Moscow-area airports, and this is causing some operator concern.
"Now, if you land at a Moscow airport without visas, crew may be fined. A database has been created to track repeat offenders and crew arriving without visas may experience escalating fines, or even detention, in future."
Russia continues to be a pricey operating environment, says Intl Trip Planning Service (ITPS) COO Phil Linebaugh. "It's costly to operate to and within Russia and it's becoming even more expensive. Russian nav charges for overflights between China and Alaska can be $3000 per leg and you may be looking at $8000–10,000 in government, airport and handling charges for each landing at Moscow or St Petersburg."
While most operations to Russia—assuming adequate advance planning—go smoothly, things can go sideways from time to time. Avplan Ops Mgr Phil Tyler points out that some airways in Russia appear to be usable but are not. "Always preconfirm that Russian airways are usable even if they're shown on the charts," he advises.
"The military closes certain airways from time to time and some airways are restricted to domestic or commercial airline use. Recently, a Citation X operator flying from Europe to Hong Kong found that the listed preferred airways were not available. When overflying Russia, what you see is not always what you'll get in terms of airways."
Linebaugh recalls a recent permit issue that significantly delayed a flight operation. "We had an operator who'd filed a valid routing, had his permit in hand and yet was denied. After the original permit request was made CAA changed the routing, sent the new routing to the operator but did not let ATC know of the change.
ATC expected the operator to come in on the original routing even though the flightplan was approved for a different routing. After the crew sent ATC a copy of their approved permit this miscommunication was resolved. But by that time the flight had been delayed by well over an hour."
Permit process changes
DME (Domodedovo, Moscow, Russia) serves as a popular GA alternative to VKO (Vnukovo, Moscow, Russia). Airport closures at DME are less frequent than at VKO and aircraft parking is usually plentiful.
Landing permits are required for all operations to Russia. On Jun 1, 2013 landing permit lead times were reduced from 3 days to 1 day for aircraft with less than 19 passenger seats making fewer than 4 trips per month to Russia. This change applies to both private and charter flight operations seeking landing, overflight or tech stop permission.
If your aircraft has 19 or more passenger seats, or you operate to Russia 4 or more times in one month, lead time remains 14 working days for international arrivals says Humphrey.
Another benefit of recent permit changes has been extension of permit validity.
Permits are now valid from 0001Z on the date of your flight—as indicated in the permit request sent to CAA—and remain valid for 48 hrs from the ETD listed on the permit request.
"This makes the permit revision process much easier than it had been," says Tyler. "If, for example, you have a permit for an initial schedule with ETD 1500Z on Aug 5 you can change ETD to any time within the range of 0001Z on Aug 5 to 1500Z on Aug 7."
Hoover points out that these changes boost operator flexibility significantly.
"Previously, it had been difficult to operate earlier than scheduled," he says. "If you wanted to depart or arrive 4 or 5 hours earlier it could take several hours to have a revision approved by CAA. Recent permit changes, however, minimize these complications and improve operator flexibility."
Crew visa requirements
In the past crew could arrive at any one of 3 Moscow-area airports and secure visas on arrival. These took up to a couple of hours to process, following arrival, and were valid for 1 entry and a stay of up to 7 days. While crew visas on arrival may still be possible in certain circumstances, operators desiring visas on arrival may be fined and risk having their names put on a blacklist.
"As of Dec 1, 2012 visas on arrival are no longer being issued at Moscow area airports," says Hoover. "Crew now need to arrange visas prior to arrival and visas must be valid for the full length of stay. If your visa expires before your trip ends you will not be permitted to leave the country. And if you arrive without a visa you'll be subject to fines and/or deportation."
In the past single tech stops in Russia had been allowed without visas. This, however, has also changed according to Humphrey. "There are still airports in Russia that allow tech stops of up to 3 hrs without visas," he says, "but at other airports you may be fined up to $5000 when making single tech stops without visas.
It all depends on the customs official you're dealing with. Best policy is to always have a visa for any stop in Russia or, alternatively, to try to get advance confirmation in writing that your tech stops will be accepted without a visa."
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