Russia in the wrong, but points finger West

 - October 26, 2010, 11:41 AM

The Russian United Business Aviation Association is well aware of illegal charter flying in the country and is deeply concerned about it, according to the group’s vice president, Eugeny Bakhtin. He told AIN the association is urging authorities to adopt Western standards to iron out legal anomalies that allow the so-called gray market to thrive there.

But while acknowledging Russian failings, Bakhtin accused supposedly respectable Western charter operators of hypocrisy in “dropping their noble principles” when it comes to flying customers into and within Russia. He alleged that both Russian and Western operators are prepared to operate outside the rules temporarily to get a job done.

For Bakhtin there are two core problems: the first is abuse of the cabotage rules that should control the ability of foreign operators to fly for hire within another state; the second concerns the legal difficulties relating to ownership of private aircraft in Russia that can make it hard for some to avoid operating illegally.

While Russian laws are strict in theory, explained Bakhtin, in practice there is the potential “for large irregularities.” Many operators wanting to fly in Russia simply declare flights to be private to avoid the complex web of rules that would have to be dealt with to be strictly legal. In doing so, said Bakhtin, it is not unusual for operators to offer customs and aviation officials inducements to turn a blind eye. In fact, sometimes even legitimate private fliers can feel the need to resort to such measures simply to avoid bureaucratic hassles.

Under current law, foreign-registered aircraft flying between two points within Russia are considered to be blocked under cabotage rules unless the operator can convince officials otherwise. In fact, cabotage applies even if an aircraft is flying from somewhere in Russia to a destination outside the country but makes a fuel stop in Russia en route.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that 99 percent of Russia’s business aviation fleet is registered outside Russia by Russian owners. This means that Russian operators are technically blocked by cabotage rules on almost every flight they make. Customs and aviation officials are well aware of this and are proactive about checking flight documents. It falls to the aircraft owner and the operator to prove that the flight should not, in fact, be subject to cabotage.

Meanwhile, the Russian United Business Aviation Association is pushing for international best practices to be adopted in its country. It is making proposals to both the Rosaviatya civil aviation authority and the customs agency to adopt Western standards in its rules and the way they are enforced.