Russian handling sites rising to West’s standards

 - October 12, 2007, 5:53 AM

Unable to compete effectively with their European counterparts for top-end business travelers due to the heavy tax on imported business jets, Russian business aviation companies instead are focusing on FBO services. Well appointed business aviation terminals have been constructed at the following airports: Sheremetievo (Avcom and LukOil facilities), Vnukovo (RKK Energia and Vnukovo-3), Myachkovo (Gazpromavia) and, more recently, Domodedovo.

Russia’s first business aviation center, meaning a full-service FBO complete with terminal and hangar facilities, served its first VIP charter flight on March 15. Built and operated by the country’s largest business aviation company, Avcom, it is located one mile from the main passenger terminal at Domodedovo, the country’s fastest-growing airport. Rebuilt and renovated by privately held East Line Group, the airport served 6.7 million passengers last year, a 74-percent increase over 2001.

Domodedovo Airport director Sergei Rudakov is happy to have the partnership with Avcom: “VIP flights are not our business, but we believe that every major airport that wants to stay popular must provide a wide choice of services to VIP travelers.” East Line leases land to Avcom between the main maintenance station and the customs cargo storehouses. Rudakov said that East Line’s “purpose is not to earn big money on the lease. Rather, we just want business aviation to be here and develop.” East Line is responsible for major airport functions, including security, ops planning and fuel. Group member Domodedovo Jet Service (DJS) controls the airport fuel farm, but customers can choose between DJT and Shell as a fueler.

Avcom’s revenue comes from ramp/hangar and arrival/departure fees. General director Eugeny Bakhtin hopes business travelers will find Domodedovo more convenient than Sheremetievo or Vnukovo. Although farther from the city center, Domodedovo has a fluid four-lane highway originating at Moscow Ring Road and terminating at the airport.

Better space usage and interior colors make the new Domodedovo facility look like it’s the same size as the one at Sheremetievo, though the two-story building actually is almost half as big–6,984 sq ft versus 16,140 sq ft. The new facility has a nominal capacity of 50 people at a time and can comfortably handle 40 to 50 business jet flights daily.

The ground floor has a reception area; lobby; bar; several offices; conference, meeting, flight-planning and weather rooms; and an area for check-in, customs and immigration procedures. A duty-free shop and a national-style restaurant are to be added soon. A staircase leads from the reception area to the upper floor. Having climbed up, a traveler enters a large partition-free passenger lounge with an unobstructed view of the aircraft parking area. A high transparent ceiling creates a feeling of being in midair. The upper floor design was inspired by travelers’ comments on a smaller “winter garden” green area of the Sheremetievo terminal. The basement is multifunctional, housing a sauna, shower, crew rest areas and personnel. Unlike Sheremetievo’s terminal, the new terminal at Domodedovo does not have sleeping rooms for crews since there is a convenient Aerotel hotel within walking distance.

East Line reached an agreement with Avcom on frequent-flier “club passengers.” They can be served in the VIP terminal whether they fly a business jet or scheduled airline service. Likewise, business jet travelers can be served in the VIP lounge and officials lounge of the airport passenger terminal. East Line’s catering facility supplies food to Russian and foreign airlines, but as many other “big ovens,” it is not always up to the expectations of VIP travelers. Therefore, a selection of dishes from city restaurants or specialized suppliers is available.

The general director of Avcom’s Domodedovo business at “Avcom-D,” Roman Kamensky, said handling services at the airport are provided by both Avcom-D and East Line Handling. The two, however, have a “customer pays once” agreement. If Avcom is contracted to handle a flight, it will do the work, get paid and then pay for services provided by other firms, a rare practice for Russian airports.

Kamensky joined Avcom-D in 1998, when the company opened a business aviation lounge in one of Domodedovo’s main terminals. Since then VIP flight frequency has increased from one to two flights a week to nearly that many a day. Hopes for this summer are about five flights a week. “We’ve already established a client base, and with this new facility it will rise further,” Kamensky noted. Two virtually parallel 13,120-foot runways can be simultaneously used at Domodedovo, so, at worst, takeoff waiting time is 12 minutes. Taxi time from the VIP terminal to Runway 2 is three minutes and to Runway 1 it is 10 minutes.

Avcom’s separately standing 26,900-sq-ft hangar can house two Falcon 900s and inspires business expansion plans.