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News

Business Aviation Ops in Russia

07.12.2009

Living through the fear, distrust, and implicit threats of the Cold War, aviation professionals on either side of the Iron Curtain likely could never, in their wildest imaginings, have conjured a time when Boeing Aircraft would operate a design office in Moscow. Or, along with arch-rival Airbus, would market jetliners to new private-sector Russian airlines. Or – even more implausible – that Western corporate executives and employees would travel freely within “Mother Russia” in business jets built in the United States, Canada, Europe and South America.

“I never expected to see this level of openness,” Paul Mrocka, who captains a Gulfstream 550 for Honeywell, told Business & Commercial Aviation. “I was an Army helicopter pilot in the 1970s and flew the borders of East Germany and Czechoslovakia and never thought I’d see a time when I’d be flying jets routinely in Russian airspace. It’s easy to fly through Russia today. It’s more open today than it’s ever been.” Twenty years on since the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the formation of the Russian Federation and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), business aviation operations are accepted, even welcomed, by the Russian government and its air traffic control apparatus.

And vast it is: Greater Russia constitutes the largest country in terms of land mass on the planet: 17,098,242 square kilometers(6,601,668 square miles), or 1.8 times the size of the United States. (For all that area, though, it is worth noting that Russia’s population — 141,881,000 — is about half that of the United States, with a negative birthrate.) The country stretches so far across the northern hemisphere — from Western Europe to Asia — that it borders 14 nations and is divided into 11 time zones (UTC+2 to UTC+12).

With formidable distances between many Russian cities (when Muscovites are beginning their workdays at 0900, their counterparts in Petropavlovsk, 4,200 sm to the east on the Kamchatka Peninsula, are having dinner at 1800) you have a country tailor made for aviation. So it wasn’t surprising that when Russia converted its communist economy to something resembling a free market — and especially when it began to exploit its considerable oil and natural gas reserves — newly minted entrepreneurs and their corporate enterprises quickly embraced business aviation.

According to Leonid Koshelev, who chairs the Russian United Business Aviation Association (RUBAA), before the current recession, business aviation in Russia was growing as much as 15 percent per year in terms of movements.
“It was very substantial, and we were all enthusiastic,” said Koshelev, who also is president of the Jet-2000 charter/management company and Streamline OPS handling and ground services firm, both headquartered in Moscow. “We are sure it will return after the recession because Russia is an ideal place for business aviation due to the size of the country and the poor condition of surface transportation.”

Assessing the indigenous business aircraft population in Russia is difficult, as most Russian-owned aircraft are based outside the country due to high import duties, heavy taxes and inability to obtain financing. “If you include Western equipment, only 15 to 20 aircraft are registered and operated in Russia,” Koshelev said. “Russian types like the Yak 40/42 and Tupolev 135 have also been brought into business service and number about 200. In the economic downturn, though, most of them are parked or used exclusively for charter.”

Outside of Russia, RUBAA believes, there are between 300 and 400 Russian-owned business jets and turboprops. “No one knows the exact number,” Koshelev said, “all types from BBJs down to Premier I’s and PC-12s. Some people think Russians prefer big aircraft like the G550, but I don’t think that’s true. They are really absorbing the full spectrum of [dedicated] business aircraft types.”

RUBAA, by the way, is the result of a recent merger — or reunification, so to speak — of the former Russian Business Aviation Association, founded in 1997, and the United Business Aviation Association, a splinter group that broke away in mid-decade. “The mission of RUBAA is to achieve conditions for business aviation in Russia comparable with the rest of the world,” Koshelev explained. “We have 45 companies in RUBAA, about 15 of which are operators and the remaining associate members that are charter companies, consultants, caterers, and so forth.”

At airports like Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo in Moscow — the most popular destination at the time — fueling and other servicing were provided by the airlines, and passengers and crews were driven to airline terminals to clear customs. Meanwhile, aircraft were often parked on auxiliary ramps and taxiways far from the terminals. If there was a “passenger lounge” for non-airline visitors, it was usually a line of folding chairs set up in an office or Quonset hut somewhere on the field. Delays for everything from fueling to flight plan filing were common, and in outlying areas like Central and Eastern Russia, hotel accommodations were primitive, to say the least. (In some cases, they still are.)

But the business jets kept coming, and entrepreneurs like Koshelev saw the opportunity to profit from business aviation as well as airline activity. By the late 1990s, handling services like Streamline OPS were beginning to appear as were actual FBOs with comfortable accommodations, on-site CIQ services and flight planning support. Not only that, but major U.S. handling agencies either began to open offices at principal destinations or develop partnerships with Russian counterparts to support operators headed there. Now, experienced English- and Russian-speaking agents could meet arriving business jets to speed the process of disembarking passengers and getting them to hotels while assisting pilots with their professional needs.

Early in this decade, business aircraft traffic in and out of Russia was increasing so fast that in 2005 it became a factor in a reevaluation of business aviation activity and its impact on overall traffic levels by Eurocontrol, the ATC coordinating agency for Western Europe. (The other factor was the considerable increase in whole and fractional business jet ownership within the European Union.) While exact statistics on visitation are not available, Streamline OPS extrapolates its own figures, based on the traffic it serves in Russia. The firm’s Alexander Chepurnov said, “Judging from our volumes, the busiest year was 2008, with approximately 25,000 to 28,000 flights by foreign business jets.” Despite a drop-off after September that year, the estimated total for 2008 was still 5 to 10 percent higher than that for 2007. Averaged out for the first nine months, Chepurnov observed that visitation in 2009 has paralleled the totals for 2007, although the summer months ran 10 percent below those of two years earlier.

Of course, as it did elsewhere, the recession reduced business aviation movements in Russia, but there is some indication that trips into the country by Western operators are on the upswing.

“We’re going there a lot,” said Honeywell’s Mrocka, who had just returned from Moscow when we spoke with him. “I’ve been there three times in total and have over-flown Russia many times more going to China, returning from India, and so forth. We also note that business is starting to pick up there, despite the recession.”

No Fear — But Understand the Differences

Western operators shouldn’t “be afraid of Russia,” Koshelev counseled, as “infrastructure is improving, ATC is becoming more accustomed to working with business aviation and navigators aren’t required as much as before [more on that later]. English proficiency may not be up to the mark at the smaller outlying fields, but at the bigger airports it isn’t a problem.”

But as already noted, Russian procedures don’t always conform to ICAO’s recommendations and Western visitors must know and accommodate them to safely traverse Russian airspace. For a briefing on Russian procedures, we turned to international operations expert Dave Stohr, president and founder of Air Training International. We also interviewed business pilots familiar with operations there. Stohr pointed out that there are four primary differences in procedure of which pilots with no Russia experience should be aware.

Altimetry – The QFE altimetry system used throughout Russia is among the biggest adjustments flight crews will have to make when operating there for the first time. QFE, as Stohr explained, “is associated with height above the airport or runway threshold. What we really emphasize in our training is that when you use QFE, it is a height; when you use QNH, it is an altitude above sea level.” And just to make things even more interesting, the Russians express altitude in meters, not feet.

So if an aircraft is being vectored for an approach and instructed by ATC to descend to 1,500 meters in a country that uses QFE, the controllers expect it to level out at 1,500 meters above the airport. “Even though you request QNH,” Stohr said, “they do not change [the system] — that is, if they tell you to descend or climb, they expect you to be above the airport. When you fly QNH, your vertical position is relative to mean sea level, so if you’re operating in a country using QFE, and you opt to use a QNH altimeter setting and are then subsequently given a height assignment, for you to be correct vertically, you must add the field elevation to the height assignment to ensure that you will be where you are supposed to be. That’s why we recommend that when you go to a QFE country, fly QFE so you don’t have to convert constantly.”

QFE heights are shown inside parentheses on approach plates immediately after the relevant altitudes. “You need to be prepared to operate under those conditions,” Stohr said. “There may be a perception by some operators that if you request a QNH altimeter setting in Russia, they would then be giving you altitude assignments instead of height assignments, and that is not the case. Everything they will give you is a height.”

Greg Parke, an independent contract pilot with considerable Russia experience, recommends that crews have conversion tables in the cockpit and advises pilots to “know in your head what, for example, ‘200 meters’ is. In our aircraft, we had conversion tables clipped to the yokes. Newer avionics allow switching altimeters to metric. If you have to deal with QFE and metric at the same time, it can get pretty busy in the cockpit.”

When receiving instructions from ATC, the PNF should write down everything and read it back, Parke continued. “Mis-setting the altimeter is the biggest killer over there, so when you get an assigned altitude, make sure you set your altimeters correctly and crosscheck between sides. They [the controllers] will say ‘flight level one thousand five hundred meters.’ This is about 4,900 feet, and when each pilot sets his or her altimeter, make sure you do the feet/meter conversion properly and that both pilots check it.”

Also, Parke warned, “some older aircraft are not able to set their altimeters low enough for QFE [under some circumstances], so if you are going into an airport higher than 2,700 feet above sea level, make sure your altimeter can be set to zero at that altitude. I had an older Challenger that was like that.”

Honeywell’s Mrocka notes that the avionics of most modern aircraft “are predicated on QNH, so you have to reconfigure for QFE — you can’t rely on technology to take care of that.” Most important to keep in mind is that crew performance must be modified to accommodate this. “You have to go into a semi-auto mode to configure the aircraft to land at a QFE airport,” Mrocka continued. “You have to tell it where it is [vertically].”

There can be embarrassing consequences for getting this wrong. “A lot of the newer [aircraft] know the field elevation in QNH from the nav database in the FMS,” Mrocka said, “so they will automatically depressurize the aircraft as you descend, based on height above sea level. So if the airplane thinks you’re at zero when you land [because you set the altimeter setting at zero] it might still be pressurized when you try to open the door — big surprise! Also, if you have not set QFE on your altimeter to begin with [while you’re still in the air], you’re really setting yourself up for trouble. Hopefully, in that case the controllers would catch the error on their radar before you had an incident.”

Instrument Procedures — “The instrument approach procedures, SIDs and STARS, are neither TERPs nor Pans Ops,” Stohr said. “They are a Russian design, which means that you are not going to see racetracks, procedure turns, and so forth, as typically Russian arrivals will put you on final approach for the runway you are intending to land on.”

That final turn onto the localizer can be gut-wrenching, too, if you’re not prepared for it. “Controllers do not always follow ICAO standards when it comes to vectoring you onto a final approach course,” Parke said. “Ten to 12 miles out at 600 meters altitude [1,969 feet] you will be perpendicular to the ILS — and they will clear you for the approach! Get yourself slowed down so your turning radii are small, as [the controllers] do not understand [the difficulty for a business jet to accommodate tight] radii above 200 knots.”

These close-in transitions require advance planning, Mrocka added. “In the West, we’re accustomed to doing the final landing configuration — setting the flaps and so forth — at the final approach fix, as there’s plenty of time to do it there. In Russia, however, the controllers vector you in at a lower altitude, and the FAF is a lot closer to the airport than in most ICAO-compliant countries. Be configured prior to the FAF because of this — allow yourself time to configure the aircraft for landing. Also, don’t expect them to slow you down in time to make a fast turn onto the localizer — give yourself enough time to set up for the approach. In my G550, I have a lot of situational awareness due to my company’s avionics, but in older analog aircraft, you might not have that level of situational awareness, so plan accordingly.”

Keep Your Head Up

Also, if traffic is heavy at the destination airport and there are delays, don’t expect to be stacked into holding, Parke emphasized. “Russian controllers do not use holding patterns and vector everyone around if there are delays. This increases their workload considerably and contributes to the delays. During this maneuvering, it behooves you to keep your head up, as most of their aircraft are not equipped with TCAS for separation. They also maintain larger separation intervals than we do, which helps to string things out and adds to the delays.”

Here’s how this practice relates to efficiency — or the lack of it. “I would advise operators headed into Moscow for Vnukovo [UUWW] to carry extra fuel for the arrival and plan for a minimum of 30 minutes to an hour for vectoring.” This is because Vnukovo hosts the government’s VIP operation (out of Terminal 3), and if a government flight with, say, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin aboard happens to be dispatched as you’re arriving, nothing will move on the airport for at least an hour. Complicating this is the fact that, for security reasons, the government doesn’t announce when its VIP movements occur.

“So have the extra fuel aboard if you’re headed there to accommodate this possibility,” Parke advised. “All the aircraft being vectored around will have priority to land when the airport is clear of the VIP flight, so if you get caught in a VIP movement on the ground, you’ll have to wait to takeoff. Don’t get upset, because there is nothing you can do about it. Domodedovo is an alternative that many operators are using to evade these delays.”

However, note that when arriving at Moscow from the west and going to Domodedovo Aerodrome [UUDD], “you will always be routed clockwise around the city to the north and east via STAR Fox Kilo One,” Parke pointed out. (Also, note that STARs in Russia have two parts: an arrival transition and the actual approach.)

Given these procedural differences, the obvious recommendation here is for operators to familiarize themselves with Russian instrument procedures or obtain training for them before making that first flight into the country. In this regard, “Good luck trying to get your hands on a Russian AIP [Aviation Information Publication],” Stohr said. Russia has two versions of its AIP: domestic and international. “When you operate to destinations listed in the international AIP,” Stohr explained, “a local navigator is not necessary. So the information found in Jeppesen manuals is probably from the Russian international AIP.” The domestic AIP is not available outside of Russia, and thus foreign operators must use Russian navigators.

By the way, one area where Russian ATC is aligned with ICAO is controllers’ use of ICAO phraseology. There may be differences in procedures, Parke said, but “the controllers’ English is pure ICAO. For a takeoff clearance, it’s ‘line up and wait,’ not ‘cleared [onto the runway] and hold.’ Keep your radio transmissions very simple — absolutely no slang. Always say ‘one thousand five hundred meters,’ as they do not understand ‘teens;’ so never say ‘fifteen hundred meters.’ Don’t say ‘descending to one-point-five,’ as they are not going to understand that, either. Always use ICAO phraseology.”

Finally, Parke revealed that, at least for turbine-powered aircraft, VFR is a no-go in Russia. “It is open in Russia, but everything is IFR. So if you need to reposition to a nearby airport, it will still take 30 minutes minimum due to the IFR procedures. They do not accept visual approaches, as they essentially don’t exist in Russia.”

Russia is not WGS 84 – Another issue with which Western operators should be familiar is Russia and the World Geodetic Standard; the country has not been surveyed for compliance with the latest (i.e., 1984) and most accurate iteration, WGS 84. Operators should consult Jeppesen’s Web site for WGS 84 country updates. “So obviously using GPS to position the aircraft is an issue,” Stohr said, “as GPS is referenced to WGS 84, and the aircraft will therefore not be located where you think it is.” (Instead, consider using Russia’s Glonass satnav system, which is referenced to the country’s geodetic survey, if you have the capability to access it with your avionics.)

Accordingly, Parke reminded operators that “since Russia is not fully complaint with WGS 84, you are not legal to fly a GPS approach or an NDB as an overlay. GPS is good for STARs, but flying approaches — forget it! You could wind up a mile off course.” Also, for operators with aircraft equipped with synthetic vision, Mrocka added that “things will be off a bit . . . [so] convert back to ‘green’ or raw data, intercept the localizer, and ignore lateral nav indications [which are GPS-referenced]. You can still use synthetic vision for situational awareness, but I wouldn’t rely on it for approach guidance under those circumstances.”

NDBs prevail as the primary navaid – Stohr urges operators to keep in mind that in the Far East, most ground navaids are NDBs — and even then, are few and far between. “So you have no way of updating your FMS position except via GPS or inertial,” he said. “The NDBs are often used to define your arrivals at Far Eastern airports [e.g., Magadan, Petropavlovsk, Anadyr, Yuzhno on Sakhalin Island and Khabarovsk], so you should be prepared to fly them to get to final approach, remembering that since Russia is not WGS 84, you cannot use GPS to keep you within capture limits.” All of this also applies to the C.I.S. states.

Planning the Flight

Arranging permits for flights into Russia is straightforward, although it is important for operators unfamiliar with the process to understand that among the residue of the Soviet period is a monolithic bureaucracy and rigid adherence to procedure. “This isn’t about efficiency — it’s all about control,” Parke said, by way of explaining the inflexibility. “And they control everything down to the minutiae, from obtaining the entry permit to all things associated with operating.”
So, when planning the trip, take nothing for granted, Randy Kincade, special projects manager at Baseops in Houston, advised. “Go over every detail, convey it all to your agent or trip-support team, and have it nailed down prior to arrival. Again, make sure you’ve covered all the bases: parking on arrival, catering, handling information for the local agent with all contacts, hotels, ground transportation (including the name of the driver and his mobile phone number), security and any special needs. Check and see if tow bars for your aircraft are available, and if not, take your own. [This often is a big issue when going into the hinterlands where business aircraft rarely visit.] If you have date and time changes, relay them to the service provider to revise the permit with as much lead time as possible.”

Minimum published lead time for requesting overflight or landing permits is five days, although it is recommended that operators apply for permits as far in advance as possible. Major U.S. handling agencies claim that under some circumstances they have been able to obtain permits in less time, but this can’t be guaranteed since the civil aviation authorities are required to obtain approval from the Russian military for all flights into or over the country, which tends to draw out the process. Another impediment is that the Federal Air Navigation Authority (FANA), the granting agency, does not function on a 24-hour basis. Parke claimed that in his experience, “the first time you request [a permit] will take the longest,” but once the operator develops some history with FANA, the process will be accelerated.

Matt Pahl, assistant operations manager at Air Routing International’s Houston headquarters, identified some changes imposed on the permit process last year. “The Central Department of Operational Services [CDOS] demanded more documents for issuing permits and made it slightly more difficult to get approvals,” he said. “They wanted us to know they weren’t above denying a permit if the operator didn’t have the required documents or had not applied for entry with the appropriate lead time, at least five business days.

“Now they want crew and passenger details for the application and copies of insurance, airworthiness, registration and noise certificates, plus sponsor data,” Pahl continued. “Here at ARI, we handle this by sending them a text message via Sita using an in-house template for the required information and routing, then e-mail copies of the documents they want to see. They do charge for the permits, by the way.” Fees vary, depending on the operator’s destination, number of stops, etc.

Visas Now a Requirement for Crewmembers

Another new requirement is that crewmembers must now have visas, as has been required of passengers. “On arrival the immigration officer will check for visas, and anyone not holding one will be required to leave the country immediately,” Pahl warned. That is, the authorities won’t necessarily require the aircraft to depart, just the offending passenger. However, if it’s a crewmember without a visa, then the aircraft may be required to reposition out of the country.

Generally, visas will not be issued on arrival; however, exceptions may occasionally be granted at either Moscow or St. Petersburg — with a lot of haggling, harassment from the immigration people and no guarantee of satisfaction. The process can take several hours. Kincade at Baseops added that while “there are some places where you can get [visas] on arrival, the offices that coordinate that will not allow the crew to leave the airport if anything delays the process — like a breakdown of office equipment! One of our client operators had a case like that once.” Sometimes issuance of visas in-country can be prearranged with appropriate lead time, Pahl said, “but if you arrive sans visa unannounced, forget it.” The message here is obvious: Give yourself enough lead time to obtain your and your passengers’ visas prior to departure for Russia. They (and the aircraft documents and trip itinerary) are the most important items necessary for gaining admittance to the country.

John McClelland, Universal Weather & Aviation’s manager for permit services, emphasized the importance of providing the Russian authorities as much lead time as possible when applying for permits, especially when the intended trip involves multiple stops within the country. “Advance planning, or having your itinerary figured out ahead of time, is the key to your freedom of movement in the country,” he said. “To make changes in-country, it helps to have as much advance notice as possible. Where the permit is concerned, if someone wanted to delay their departure, that is not as much a concern as leaving earlier than scheduled, as the authorities have to approve the permit.”

Larry Williams, who handles trip planning in Universal’s charter-support department, added that IDs are also necessary for all crew and passengers. “In the initial planning, having the itinerary is really important, as we have to plan ahead for landing permits, exact routings, and entry and exit points for Russia airspace.” In addition to the aircraft airworthiness, registration and insurance certificates, if the flight is a charter, the Russian authorities will want to see the operator’s AOC.

Russian permits are valid for 24 hours after the scheduled departure time, McClelland explained. A crew crash information card is only required if the aircraft will be operating into an airport that has no fire protection. French operators should note that as of Sept. 8, all French-registered aircraft must submit a French DGAC letter of request for landing in Russia with the request for permit.

Kincade at Baseops also addressed entry and exit fixes, reminding first-time Russia visitors that they must be included in the itinerary when it is filed. “If you give us the route you want, we will locate the entry and exit points for you,” he said. This policy relates to the coordination necessary between the civil aviation authorities and the military.
And Kincade cautions visiting operators, “Going in, the maximum amount of money you can declare is $3,000.”

If changes to the itinerary are necessary, be advised that it is easier to change the permit once the operator has arrived in Russia, Universal’s Williams said. Bear in mind, though, that the operator’s handler will still have to go through the process of revising the outbound schedule. According to pilot Parke, while permits can be modified to delay a departure, “moving them up [to an earlier hour] is virtually impossible, so if you are sure you will take off at 1500 hours, with the possibility of leaving at noon, then file for the noon departure.”

Russian Airports

The most popular destination in Russia for business aviation is, of course, the capital, Moscow, with St. Petersburg the second most popular. At Moscow, most business aviation traffic uses Vnukovo Airport (UUWW), the least congested of the city’s three fields, due to its lack of commercial operations. Accordingly, Vnukovo has evolved to support business aviation with several executive-level FBOs; it also offers relatively easy access to the city (“relatively,” because Moscow’s surface traffic is very congested). The other options are Sheremetyevo (UUEE), the major international airport, and Domodedovo (UUDD), primarily a domestic airline reliever. “Vnukovo has gotten really better over the past few years, very professional,” Parke observed, “with ground handlers in uniforms and all the services you’d expect in the West.”

Generally, there are no parking issues at Vnukovo and security is rated as good. Hangars are not abundant but available on a first come, first served basis. Deicing is easily arranged; however, Williams recommended that the operator’s handler request the service with as much advance notice as possible to ensure the deicing truck is available when it’s time to depart, due to the wintertime demand. According to Parke, though, the local policy is not to deice the aircraft until the passengers arrive. Not surprisingly, “they are pretty good at it,” he said, adding that in most places the dreaded and highly corrosive “Arctica” deicing fluid has been supplanted by the more aluminum-friendly Types 2 and 4 concoctions. Also, at UUWW or elsewhere during the crippling Russian winter, it is important to make sure equipment is available to blow out the aircraft’s water lines before parking outside overnight or for extended periods.

And what busy European airport would be complete in the 21st century without a slot policy? With the increase in Russian air traffic, Vnukovo in Moscow and Pulkovo Airport at St. Petersburg have been forced to exercise metered arrivals and departures. “There’s no set number of slots for general aviation,” Air Routing’s Pahl said, “but you have to apply for them. My understanding is that before the permits are issued, the authorities will verify that slots have been approved and coincide with the application for the entry permit. That is, they do it internally and may not issue a permit until they know [your handling service provider has] applied for the slot.

“If there is an event, like the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, that will draw a lot of visitors,” Pahl continued, “then it’s possible you may not be able to obtain overnight parking due to the additional traffic; the notification of this will come from the slot office. In St. Pete, you might have to drop your passengers and jump across to Helsinki. They do not offer special considerations. The procedures are fairly rigid. So plan ahead and ensure you have slots and parking reservations. These places are much busier in the summer; in the winter it tends to be much more open and few events are scheduled due to the weather. Flights in the winter really drop off.”

Russia has 1,216 total airports, 595 with paved runways. If the operator has filed to a domestic airport, that is, a non-port of entry or even a “non-published” airport, i.e., one unlisted outside the country, the handler will need to arrange for a navigator. “This type of trip will require multiple stops,” Pahl said, “first at a port of entry to clear customs and pick up the navigator, then the leg to the domestic airport, assisted by the navigator to interpret the Russian charts, handle comm with the tower [where English might not be spoken], and possibly arrange ground services, if necessary. The navigator will remain with the crew during the visit. On departure, it’s much the same. Often the flight plan will be filed by the navigator — often on airways unpublished outside of Russia.” Typically, the navigators are off-duty airline pilots reserved through Aero Nav Service in Moscow.

While runways at the major airports in Western Russia are well-surfaced, elsewhere, runway surfacing can be very rough due to heavy Russian winters and general neglect. “For example,” Parke said, “the runway at Krasnoyarsk, about 2,000 feet down going east, has a huge hump in it that will scare the pants off you just about when you reach Vr. If you’re taking off from there, my advice is not to taxi all the way to the end of the runway for the takeoff but to start from 1,000 feet down, as it’s a really long strip.” At some fields in the Russian Far East, e.g., Petropavlovsk (UHPP), the runways were constructed with concrete blocks that become heaved by ice, thus exposing the edges of the blocks in the wintertime.

“You won’t find much in the way of hangars anywhere except Moscow,” Parke added. “So get to the airport early to get things warmed up, as you’ll be parking on the ramp.” Where there are hangars, the fee averages €1,500 ($2,229) per night.

When traveling into the more remote areas or Russia, Kincade at Baseops recommends to “always have contact numbers readily available. We had one aircraft that had to divert into a more remote area because of equipment failure, and they were confined to the aircraft for 24 hours by local authorities. They coordinated with us so we were able to arrange for a second aircraft to carry a part to them for the repair. You will have little local help in those areas until you get things coordinated from the outside.” Also when flying to the hinterlands — and that accounts for a lot of Russia — Parke suggested to “make sure you have all your [consumable] supplies on the airplane — all the stuff you’d stock your galley with — as you won’t be able to obtain them in many places.”

On the other hand, fuel is readily available throughout Russia. McClelland at Universal claimed the enormous country “is one location in the world where we rarely have fuel issues. There is lots of variation in cost, though.” He also cited Petropavlovsk and Khabarovsk (UHHH) as good tech stops in Eastern Russia, especially for operators headed to and from Asia from the United States, as they consistently have much better fuel and handling prices than locations in Japan.
Back in Moscow, “Lately, they will refuse to fuel you until your day of departure, probably to ensure you won’t leave without paying them,” Paul Mrocka said. “We noted on our last visit in October that the FBO we used at Moscow Vnukovo is really beautiful and that there were a lot of corporate aircraft there. Ground handling was good. Their people spoke perfect English, got our passengers and their luggage quickly through CIQ and onto ground transportation to town, and got us airborne really quickly for a reposition to Domodedovo.”

The Importance of Patience in the Cockpit . . .

Like the Chinese (see “Ding Hao! Operating in China,” October 2009, page 36), the Russians prefer that aircraft fly the published airways. “You can ask for a direct routing, but you can’t take it for granted that you’ll receive the clearance,” Pahl said. “We take the conservative approach and put them on the airways, and most of our clients fly what we file for them. ATC is getting better at accommodating general aviation, though. Formerly, they held general aviation down in the 30s or even below — the highest you could go might be in the low 40s — but that trend has improved, and they seem to be more accommodating in allowing operators to get higher, at least into the mid-40s. They seem more understanding now of what modern business jets can do.”

The Russians’ unwavering adherence to procedure is illustrated in this anecdote by Greg Parke. “At Vnukovo, you are waiting to taxi out to Runway 6. It’s only about a 200-yard distance from the general aviation ramp, but they will still require that a ‘follow-me’ vehicle guide you out. And you will sit and wait for that truck with the engines running. Also, whether it’s a domestic flight or not, when you are calling for taxi clearance to the runway, ATC has to coordinate your release with the immigration services. Again it’s all about control. Getting ready to leave, allow at least two hours before scheduled departure, or twice the accustomed time in the United States.” And practice patience, since you’re a guest there.

And Mrocka shared his experiences regarding bureaucracy and ATC procedures. “Just recently we were denied approval to fly over the Ukraine because of a paperwork glitch involving nav fees, but once we got it straightened out, we were able to depart the minute we got our clearance. I think Russia wants us to come and do business. They appear to want to accommodate us. They can be somewhat rigid, though. We had a flight out of Moscow to a location just south of there, and as we departed, we were told to use a SID that they hadn’t assigned us on departure, so instead they gave us radar vectors all the way down there. It doesn’t hurt to ask for directs: mostly, you won’t get one . . . but sometimes you will.”

. . . and on the Ground

And, yes, operating in Russia is expensive, or as Mrocka put it after dropping $8.40 on a cup of coffee at his Moscow hotel, “outrageously expensive.” Carry cash for basic transactions, he advised, “as most places on the ground do not accept credit cards. It’s a cash-oriented society.” Williams at Universal Weather noted that rooms in Western-style hotels in larger cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg range from $300 to $600 a night; in remote locations, standards and prices will be lower (see sidebar on travel in Eastern Russia).

Operational costs continue to rise, too, Pahl reported. The Russians have “gotten very good at charging for all sorts of things,” he said. “They’ve learned that if the trip is important, the operators will come anyway. Landing and parking fees have gone up and they hit you with arrival and departure passenger taxes, as well. Vnukovo is quite high, as much as $300 per passenger at arrival and departure — with six passengers, that would be $3,600 for the trip. There are also very expensive nav fees in Russia, as much as $1 per kilometer depending on where you’re operating.” (Recently, assistance was requested from the U.S. State Department by the Russian aviation authorities in collecting outstanding nav fees from scofflaw operators.)

Street crime is a serious issue, and American business travelers especially should govern themselves accordingly when on the streets of large cities. “Dress ‘European’ when downtown — don’t stand out,” Parke recommended. In other words, no baseball caps, shirts, or jackets festooned with U.S. sports logos, no expensive watches or jewelry, etc. Touring in groups is recommended, and women should not go out alone, especially at night.

Taxis are very expensive, Kincade at Baseops reported. “Have your hotels arrange them for you for safety purposes. Everybody is a taxi operator, so be careful (e.g., due to the depressed economy in Russia today, may auto owners are hiring our for taxi services.) Have correct change and negotiate the price before you get in. Remember that your handler can also arrange transportation and tour guides ahead of time and pre-pay for it so you can just get in and ride.” Because traffic in Moscow is so congested, adequate time should be allowed for surface movements.

Universal’s McClelland emphasized the importance of security precautions for passengers and crew. “Operators are advised to request at least the minimum-level security assessment available for their destinations [prior to departure for Russia]. In the outlying areas it is almost the reverse [as] the airports are less secure but there are fewer security threats for the crew and passengers in town.” Aviation security agencies can assess specific locations for operators and arrange guards at rural airports.

Parke said a common street scam in Moscow is for a “pedestrian” to drop a wad of money on the sidewalk in front of his mark. “Do not pick it up — turn around and go in a different direction. If you pick up the money and yell, ‘Hey you dropped this,’ a ‘policeman’ will appear out of nowhere and shake you down.”

A pilot who asked not to be identified reported another scam that may be encountered on the ramp at airports in remote areas of the country where local officials will “charge” flight crews for alleged violation of Russian cabotage rules. The local officials will demand payment of a large “tax” that is actually a bribe. The pilot’s advice was for crews to stand their ground and refuse to pay. The officials will eventually back down, he claimed.

Otherwise, frequent travelers to the country will testify to the warmth and helpfulness of the Russian people. “At the end of the day,” Air Routing’s Pahl observed, “Russia isn’t that different from many other areas in the world. With someone supporting you with local knowledge, you can operate there with reasonable expectations and success and get your business conducted. But knowing what to expect ahead of time can make it easier.”


By David Esler

Source: Aviation Week

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