Turning a government-controlled airport built for testing new aircraft into a haven for business and general aviation is no novelty. But is it the right time to do so in Russia, which currently faces economic pressures as well as U.S. and EU sanctions? Avcom president Eugeny Bakhtin and ICBA general manager Marat Alykov believe it is.
International Center of Business Aviation (ICBA) is a joint venture between Russian Technologies (Rostec) and the Avcom Group specializing in business and general aviation operations at Ramenskoye Airport near Zhukovsky. Located south of Moscow, Ramenskoye houses the famed Flight Test and Research Institute (Gromov’s LII) and hosts the biennial MAKS airshow.
Bakhtin acknowledges that economic instability, the falling rouble, political pressure and sanctions pose impediments to investments in business and general aviation, but he takes a long-term view. “All troubles and turbulence will pass away eventually. So, we take action today in expectation that sooner or later the economy will be growing again,” he told AIN.
Under the agreement with the airport owners and operators, the northern part of the facility will continue to host the flight-testing of military and civil experimental and prototype jets, but the southern area will serve business and general aviation.
Rostec’s TVK Rossiya (Transport and Exhibition Complex “Russia”) manages the property. Interacting with the airport administration and other government entities, it is responsible for implementing how the land and buildings are used. ICBA will meet business aviation’s operational needs, including flight planning for crews and other services for aircraft owners, operators and passengers. Avcom-Technic, part of the Avcom Group, will provide line and heavy maintenance.
Avcom-Technic recently won approval from aviation authorities to start maintenance operations at Ramenskoye. The company has been operating at Domodedovo Airport (and previously at Sheremetievo) and specializes in maintenance of Hawker and Cessna jets. The next step would be the establishment of a full-fledged heavy maintenance station at Ramenskoye similar to that at Domodedovo.
Since announcing the government-private partnership at JetExpo 2014, ICBA has made some progress. “With all parties involved, we have worked out the main principles of how the center would function, including the procedures for making business and general aviation flights from this airport,” said Bakhtin. “Business jets, turboprops and rotorcraft are already operating out of Ramenskoye.” During a visit by AIN to the recently opened business aviation terminal at Ramenskoye, the ramp was hosting half a dozen Hawker and Cessna jets, a PC-12 in the colors of air-taxi operator Dexter and a few helicopters. From time to time, top-end business jets could be seen through the terminal’s windows taking off and landing.
“We have already received many requests from owners–private and corporate–to base their aircraft here,” Bakhtin said. Today, more than 430,000 sq ft (40,000 sq m) of apron and parking space are open. Two hangars are already in operation and plans call for eight more to be in use by year-end. He added, “Aircraft owners coming to us are interested in the services we offer. They can rent hangar space from us for keeping their aircraft in here. They can hire a patch of land for erecting a hangar themselves. There is no other airport in the Moscow vicinity that can offer that.” He predicted, “Eventually, there will be many hangars at Ramenskoye.”
Expected Traffic Return
The main advantage of Ramenskoye over other fields in the Moscow Air Knot is that it has vast land area within the airport fence for more hangars, parking lots and so on while being close to the city.
Alykov, who worked as a test pilot at MiG from 1987 to 2005, recalls that in the late 1980s there was much activity in the southern part of the airport. “But then came a big drop in flight-test volume and everything hushed down here. Today, we are bringing this part of the airport back to life again.”
He pointed out that the attempt to attract business aviation to a test airfield is not without precedent. “Le Bourget in France, and especially Farnborough were once famous for the flight-test programs conducted there. Today, they have another specialization, with Farnborough now focusing on business aviation. There are similar cases in the U.S. These cases tell me that we are doing the right thing here. Ramenskoye does have big development potential, and we are keen to explore it.”
ICBA intends to run a training center at the airport for both amateur and professional aviators, according to Alykov. “A big training center with a big airport and a big flying zone near it is something the Moscow Air Knot lacks today. Our plans call for establishing one together with the test-pilot school named after Fedotov so that we can use the rich expertise of this famous establishment for development of general aviation.”
At 17,716 feet (3.35 miles/5,400 meters), the runway at Ramenskoye is the longest and widest in Europe.
There is one caveat for operating at the facility: Ramenskoye has strict access rules because of its involvement in national defense programs. Normally, a foreign national needs to apply up to three months in advance for permission to enter, which renders it impractical for business aviation travelers. At the same time, many Russian nationals are happy with that; they get cleared once, and then enjoy a quiet, highly protected environment that keeps their aircraft away from prying eyes.
Bakhtin expects the entry restrictions on travelers from foreign countries will be relaxed. “As soon as the northern and southern parts are separated, each will have its own security. The plan is to install a modern security system that would control all movements close to the runway, with only permitted automobiles and aircraft under their own power to be allowed in there.” Flying in and out of Ramenskoye poses no problem for Russian passport holders if they arrange their flight through ICBA. “We see to all issues with flight planning, flight operations and ground handling. ICBA was established for that.”