The Russian government has officially approved a package of measures aimed attightening control over ground handling activities at the country’s airports, as well as raising their quality,according to recent statements from the Russian Ministry of Transport. Eugene Gerden reports
The initiative was first put forward by the Russian government in 2015, due to an aircraft crash that resulted in the death of Christophe de Margerie – chairman and CEO of French oil corporation Total – when his Dassault Falcon 50 hit a snowplough on take-off from Vnukovo International Airport in October 2014.
The implementation of these plans will be part of a large-scale state initiative to invest more than RUB100 billion (US$1,8 billion) in the development of domestic ground handling services by 2020. These measures will also be part of the existing state programme known as the ‘Development of civil aviation in Russia until 2020’.
Toughening of control over ground handling activities at Russian airports is a response to recent criticism expressed by Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. He believes that the current imperfect legislation in the field of ground handling, as well as monopolisation of ground handling activities by certain operators (or structures affiliated with airports) at many Russian gateways, remains one of the major problems of the industry. He feels there is a need to stimulate competition in this field through the establishment of alternative handling companies at Russian airports.
The approved measures involve the establishment of a single centre for the control of ground handling activities at each Russian airport, as well as the introduction of new requirements for the mandatory equipment of all ground handling vehicles with ignition interlock devices (a mechanism that prevents the engine from being started in the case of the driver’s blood alcohol concentration being too high). The government has also approved the installation of GPS and GLONASS systems in all vehicles at national airports, including cars and buses as well as snow-removal machines and fire engines.
Furthermore, starting from next year, all Russian airports will be equipped with roadway scanning systems that will allow dispatchers to control movements in poor visibility, as well as additional multilateration systems and radio detectors.
Besides technological modernisation, the government has significantly toughened the requirements for the training of Russian ground handling personnel. It has also approved the proposal of trade unions and increased the minimum salary of personnel, with the aim of making jobs in the sector more attractive for potential applicants. Finally, there are plans to introduce mandatory certification of ground handling services in Russia.
Taken together, these measures will bring domestic ground handling regulations into line with international standards.
According to an official spokesperson from the Russian Ministry of Transport, the majority of funds for the implementation of these plans will be allocated from the federal budget, while the remainder will come from private investors.
An official spokesman for Maxim Sokolov, Russia’s Minister of Transport, says that to date, Russian ground handling operators have not clearly understood the goals of the industry as set by the government, while the situation has been aggravated by the lack of legal regulations and standards. However, there is a possibility that the situation will be significantly improved as early as next year.
At the same time, as part of the state plans, the current system of ground handling service provision is to be revised and there will be a shift from the current regulatory approval system to a notification procedure.
At present each provider of ground handling services in Russia must prove its ability to deliver in terms of both quality and safety. This is contrary to EU and US practices, which are based on a notification procedure. The difference in practices results in double standards in Russia and makes mutual recognition of experts’ certificates, ground handling procedures, audits and checks impossible.
In the meantime, implementation of these plans, as well as the harmonisation of Russia’s ground handling services with international standards, is under serious threat due to ongoing tensions between Russia and West which continue to negatively affect the business of many Russian handlers.
This is mainly due to the existing ban on the supplies of dual-use products to Russia, which was imposed by the US government after the beginning of sanctions wars between the two countries. Some of these products were actively purchased by Russia’s leading handlers prior to the sanctions, as they were not produced within the country.
The situation is further exacerbated by the decision of the Russian government to restrict imports of engineering products from Western countries – including those used in ground handling activities.
Due to a series of economic and political crises in Russia during recent years, the production of ground support equipment in Russia has almost been suspended. At present the majority of local producers specialise in the production of outdated equipment designed during the Soviet era, or small-scale copies of imported equipment. There are also some market niches where the share of imports reaches 100%.
At present the Russian ground handling industry remains heavily dependent on foreign equipment, while the rise of import duties and the imposition of a complete ban on supplies may have catastrophic effects on the business of many domestic handlers. The majority of Russian airlines have serious fears that the imposition of mutual sanctions may result in a significant decline in the quality of ground handling services in Russia.