Eugene Gerden, AGS contributing editor, looks at the fall-out from an aviation accident in Moscow in 2014 that will see tougher controls on ground handling in Russia.
On 20 October 2014, Christophe de Margerie, the Chairman and CEO of French oil corporation Total, was killed when his Dassault Falcon 50 aircraft hit a snowplough on take-off from Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow.
Following this tragedy, the Russian government, together with the Duma (the national parliament), plans to design a package of measures to toughen control of ground handling at Russian airports and to create new, higher safety standards.
According to Arkady Dvorkovich, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister, implementation of the new measures is an acute need that should reduce stress on dispatchers and will help to avoid further operational errors. At the same time, they should increase the quality of ground handling provided at Russian airports.
Among the new requirements are mandatory ignition interlock devices, a mechanism that prevents the engine from being started in the case of blood alcohol levels in the driver, as well as GPS and the Russian GLONASS (Globalnaya Navigazionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema) system, a global navigation satellite system. All vehicles in Russian airports, including technical service cars, buses, snow removal machines and fire engines, will have GPS and GLONASS installed. Roadway scanning systems will allow dispatchers to control movements on the landing field and its immediate proximity in conditions of poor visibility.
Toughened training standards
In addition to technical modernisation, the Russian government plans to significantly toughen requirements for the training of ground handling personnel and to increase their salaries, with the aim of making these jobs more attractive for potential applicants.
The planned measures include the establishment of a single centre of control for ground handling resources at each Russian airport. According to analysts from the Russian Ministry of Transport, this is very important, as the current lack of such a service sometimes results in dispatchers being unable to make decisions regarding the priority of services.
Finally, there are also plans to introduce a new modern system of information management in all Russian airports and to computerise all ground handling operations.
According to Oleg Nilov, member of the Committee on Transport of the Duma and one of the initiators of the new plans, introducing these measures will help to prevent tragedies in the future.
At the same time, the Russian government also plans to continue the process of liberalising ground handling services in the country. The Russian ground handling industry remains highly monopolised, a fact that is reflected by the lack of independent ground handlers. Currently handling services at the majority of Russian airports are provided by companies affiliated with the airports, which results in higher prices and lower quality.
According to analysts from the Russian Ministry of Transport, low quality and criminal negligence of ground handling personnel at Vnukovo airport were major causes of the recent tragedy.
Successful implementation of the planned measures will allow managers to increase the capacity of the system’s supervisory control of ground handling activities by almost three times, to improve the quality of managerial decisions and reduce the cost of ground handling services. In addition, this will also help to increase safety at national airports.
Multi-billion dollar bill
The total cost of the project has not been disclosed, although, according to sources close to the Russian Ministry of Transport, it may reach US$300-400 million. It is planned that the majority of funds will be provided from the Russian federal budget, as well as from several extra-budgetary resources.
A significant part of funds are to be invested in the purchase of new ground handling equipment for national airports, mostly from abroad, as domestic producers are currently unable to meet local demand.
It is also planned that execution of all ground handling activities at Russian airports will be controlled by experts from the Russian Federal Transportation Inspection Service and Federal Air Transport Agency.
Implementation of the project will be personally controlled by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, partly because the death of de Margerie took place at one of the most important and significant Russian airports.