For those who see the occasion from a business aviation perspective, Sochi has been viewed as an unusual choice of city in which to host the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games this month. Its isolated airport, located on the coast of the Black Sea, is expected to handle up to 200 daily movements during the spectacle, 70 times its usual traffic levels.
At the last Winter Games based in Europe in 2006, Turin Airport experienced around 346 business flights over the course of the Games compared to 101 over the same period the previous year. Further-more, these 16 days accounted for almost 16 per cent of all business flights into Turin for the whole of 2006. As EBAN quickly found out, de-icing is not the only obstacle faced by operators and brokers conducting their business in the region at this frantic time.
For business aviation operators and clients who wish to position aircraft at Sochi, parking has been extremely limited and restrictive, to the extent that Ursula Nothmann of Germany's FAI has declared that it is simply “not possible” anymore. “The procedure of landing followed by exit of passengers followed by immediate departure is mandatory,” she says. “For vip access or to leave via the GAT is another €390 per person.” The nearest airport to Sochi is Krasnodar, which is a 45 minute flight away, yet Nothmann says the parking situation there is much the same, with aircraft instructed to leave straight after landing. Primoz Arko, operations manager for Elit'Avia, also describes the rigid regulations: “Any flights which need long-term parking of two hours or more shall not be granted,” he comments. Arko reaffirms that the only alternative is to reposition to the closest airports, either Krasnodar or Anapa.
These alternatives do pose further complications though, as Krasnodar is 100nm north of Sochi, while Anapa is 146nm from the host city. Krasnodar has no more than 50 parking spaces, and as ops manager for PrivateFly Algy Trotter states, spaces are also getting booked up for airports even further afield: “Spaces have been booked at overflow airports including Gelendzhik, Stavrapol and Rostov. It's also likely that we'll see increased parking business for Kiev, Istanbul and Athens, which are all within a 90 minute flight of Sochi.” Prices for positioning at south Russian airports are said to have increased in light of events in Sochi. Hangar 8 has made use of its local expertise, utilising airports in Kiev and northern Turkey and shuttling passengers onward: “To support our offering during the event, when customers land at these bases we have access to a helicopter to ensure that they are given the best service possible on their trip,” comments ceo Dustin Dryden.
Parking difficulties notwith-standing, Primoz Arko says that he has found the authorities in Sochi and the security staff to be extremely accommodating. “We have encountered no problems in this respect. The measures we are seeing, including the repositioning of aircraft for parking purposes is very common in Russia during events such as this; we see the same during an economic forum for example,” he adds.
Something which featured repeatedly in our discussions was the subject of cabotage, that is to say the ruling that all domestic flights from Russian airports to Sochi were under cabotage legislation and could only be performed by Russian operators. This is fairly standard practice but, as AirPartner's Mike Hill states, it has caused complications with the Winter Olympics in mind: “It's always been a bit tricky with Russia anyway, and the freight department is completely different to the passenger side. Anyone flying to Russia has to fly from their country of origin, or to their country of origin. To fly to Russia you either have to be Russian, or if you're German you have to fly from Germany.
“You can't go from Spain, pick up cargo or passengers from Germany and then fly them to Russia, it's not allowed. To protect their own traffic rights, the Russians will refuse this.”
When Air Partner has been running the Sochi Express, a specialist cargo operation based at Frankfurt to assist with transporting vital equipment to the Games, the broker has got around the issue of cabotage by using either a German or Russian carrier, as these are the only ones permitted. Hill admits that there are fewer complications when sticking with a Russian operator. He maintains that even for Russian aircraft carrying cargo, the slots problem at Sochi is a frequent headache.
The final topic concerns the safe passage of the athletes themselves in to Russia, and this issue is one that the operator of Sochi airport, Basel Aero, has met head-on with its dedicated vip athlete terminal. It is using Terminal D at Sochi International which has been built specially for handling olympic athletes and groups of fans. Journalists accredited for the Games are also permitted to use the facility. Test flights for the system successfully handled up to 1.7 tonnes of baggage and all passengers had access to their luggage 15 minutes after landing.
The Games Terminal will handle 6,000 athletes and team members from around 85 countries. The 2,600sqm temporary facility boasts customs and border control areas, four check-in counters and 46 passport control booths. Its handling capacity of 420 passengers per hour will help the airport to manage the huge increase in traffic anticipated during the Games.
Ceo of Basel Aero Leonid Sergeev says: “Testing of Terminal D has demonstrated a readiness of the airport's services for the Games. The procedure was made possible by co-ordination between our operations management centre, engineering centre, aviation security, transport management service, maintenance centre and IT-specialists.” During the Games the airport's main terminal will be divided into three sectors, in order to optimise passenger flow.