The much-publicized fatal accident of Tatarstan Airlines Flight 363, a Boeing 737, at Kazan International Airport on November 17, 2013, has resulted in a big re-shuffle of aviation assets in the Republic of Tatarstan. The flight had been operated on behalf of Ak Bars Aero, which has its head office in Bugulma in Tatarstan (part of the Russian Federation).
Under mutual agreements, Ak Bars Aero and other local operators are now transferring their business jets and VIP helicopters to Aviaservis, a new company that was established on February 27 this year and awarded its air operator certificate three months later. In June, the start-up commenced commercial air services, after earlier beginning private flights for aircraft owners.
Calling Aviaservis a “startup” is perhaps not entirely correct, since the company inherited most of its fleet and personnel from other local operators, both defunct and still active. Aviaservis executive director Ruslan Shakirov said the operator’s current business jet fleet includes a Dassault Falcon 7X, a Bombardier Challenger 601 (with a second to be added) and two Challenger 605s; the company also operates a pair of Diamond Aircraft DA-42NG piston twins. A Challenger 850 will be added, too. Some maintenance on these aircraft is done locally at EASA-certified MRO centers in Kazan. For heavier maintenance, the jets are flown to LBAS and Aero-Dienst in Germany or TAG in Switzerland.
All aircraft in Aviaservis’s current business jet fleet are registered in Russia, which sets the operator apart from the majority of other business aviation companies in the country. By the end of this year, Sharikov said, the fleet is expected to increase to 17, some of which will be on the registries of other countries. He recalled that the first Challenger 604 brought to Tatarstan in 2005 was registered in Aruba.
Today, the Republic’s total business jet fleet (including all operators) comprises 10 business jets (at least one of which is registered in Ireland) and a dozen of VIP helicopters. Ten more VIP aircraft are being added. The fleet operates out of three major airports, in Kazan, Nizhnekamsk and Bugulma. One Challenger 604 is permanently based in Moscow.
Aviaservis plans to use a mixed fleet of aircraft with both offshore and Russian registrations to better serve customers, Sharikov said, because he believes this makes sense following the liberalization and easing of Russian regulations. “We do not see much difference in operating them commercially and in terms of maintenance,” he explained.
Aviaservis operates one Bell 429 helicopter, three Bell 407s, three Robinson R44s and two Mil Mi-8MTVs with VIP interiors from the local manufacturer Kazan Helicopters. Two more Mils are on order and join commercial operations by the third quarter of 2015. “The Mi-8’s cabin is bigger and it can operate in harsher weather conditions. This makes Russian-made helicopters competitive in the market. There is a solvent demand for their services,” Sharikov claimed. He added that the company may yet consider adding Kazan's Ansat helicopter to its fleet once the latest version has completed certification.
Along with fully owned business aircraft (including two helicopters), the operator has some privately owned helicopters under management. “One owner decided to commercialize its rotorcraft, because it had too low a utilization,” Sharikov said. “He asked us to make use of it on aero taxi services. In the first month, August, we managed 40 extra hours on it."
Helicopter charter customers include local authorities and corporations, such as Gazprom and TATneft, both oil and gas companies, and wealthy individuals. “Our client base has been rather stable,” Sharikov said, so growth has come mainly from higher usage by existing customers.
Destinations outside Russia include Western Europe, Bulgaria, Turkey and Crimea. “Our clients love to fly into Crimea these days,” he said. However, he claimed that the Ukrainians have been building a database of Russian operators flying into “the annexed peninsula.”