Paul Duffy/MOSCOW

In common with all Soviet overhaul sites, Factory N402 at Moscow's Bykovo Airport had specific work allocated to it. Until the early 1990s, it was the overhaul centre for most of the world's ageing Ilyushin Il-18 turboprops. The Factory was also the only centre in the world to cater for all civil models of the Ilyushin Il-76 freighter, plus all export versions of the aircraft, and all Yakovlev Yak-42s. In addition, its airmotive section was the world's only provider of the Soloviev D-30 engine powering the Tupolev Tu-134.

As the Soviet Union collapsed, most aviaremonts (overhaul centres) were set in their ways and ready only for more of the same. Factory N402 had one notable difference, however - an engineer named Vladimir Chernaev. He began by pushing the management to be ready for change. Soon, he was charged with establishing a third-party operation to offer Western-quality painting services to the many Aeroflot units.

He did this by setting up a partnership with Aer Rianta and Expressair to paint Aeroflot aircraft at Shannon Airport in Ireland, using Western paints. These offered a higher quality and a longer life than those of Soviet paints (six to seven years against 2.5 years).


Shannon paintshop

The business grew and soon N402's subsidiary company, Aviation Technology, was painting large numbers of aircraft in Shannon, at Bykovo and in purpose-rented hangars at other Russian airports. A direct result of this was that, when a drop in Russian and other CIS traffic occurred, N402 remained busy and earned money.

Thus, as the system began to change and workers began to appoint directors, Factory N402 elected Chernaev general director. He and chairman Vasili Safonov began the work of modernising and updating an industry which dated from 1931, and which had had little money invested in modernisation in the previous 20 years.

First, they changed the name from Factory N402 to Bykovo Aviation Services (BASCO). Then came a new management team - young and vigorous people in their thirties and forties, but with some veterans to ensure that enthusiasm was tempered.

The "aviaremonts", although a branch of civil aviation, had been the main link between the operators and producers in Soviet times. The design bureaux and production factories had always stationed engineers and designers at the overhaul centres, and also had arrangements to supply spare parts and components to operators through the aviaremonts. BASCO decided to develop this theme, firstly by investing in future products.

It began with its basic "customer", the Il-76. BASCO put venture capital into the modernised and stretched Il-76MF, which had its first flight in July 1995, to ensure future work. Then it became a shareholder in Perm Motors, producer of the new Soviet/Russian PS-90A engine which powers the Il-76MF, the Ilyushin Il-96-300 and the Tupolev Tu-204.

BASCO worked closely with the Federal Aviation Service (FAS) and the Interstate Aviation Committee on the certification programme. Originally, four aviaremonts had been planned to achieve certification in late 1995/ early 1996. An accident, initially thought to be overhaul-related, delayed that plan, however. (The accident subsequently turned out to have no maintenance related cause.)

In the programme, some 2,300 work tasks were audited. Some minor changes were made, and each was approved. Then each engineer and technician was assessed for competence, experience and health, and appropriately licensed. Finally, at the end of December 1996, BASCO became the first overhaul centre to be licensed by the FAS, and by the Aviaregister for all CIS countries. Five months earlier, it had received Chinese certification to carry out full overhauls on Yak-42s. The first Chinese aircraft is due to arrive for overhaul this month.

Not everything works in BASCO's favour. With business faltering at other aviaremonts, some of them decided to broaden their product bases, and two opted to work on the Yak-42. To do this, they first had to buy the documentation from Yakovlev - for the equivalent, it is believed, of at least several million dollars. The normal price for a Yak-42 major overhaul is equivalent to about $600,000. One of these two aviaremonts, Dnepropetrovsk in Ukraine, has since discontinued its Yak-42 work, but the Minsk Aircraft Repair Works has completed work on Lithuanian Airlines and Cubana aircraft, and is set to continue.

BASCO sales director Andrie Rybin says: "With 150-160 aircraft capable of operating, there is enough work for us both. But the fall in traffic has seen almost half of these aircraft parked for the last few years, and this will result in some strain."

At the Flight International/Aviaexport Conference in April, Yak-42 manufacturer, the Saratov Aircraft Production Factory, said that it is seeking maintenance work on the aircraft.

The Yak-42 is one of the best Soviet-era aircraft. The 120-passenger (in an all-economy layout) tri-jet is Stage III certificated, its operating costs are slightly lower than those of the 72- to 76-seat Tu-134, and are close to those of a Boeing 737-200.

The aircraft's avionics and cabin need to be updated, however, and BASCO has begun to do this on a Bykovo Airlines aircraft. With design-bureau approval, it has updated the aircraft to Yak-42D standard, which involved fitting a centre tank for extra range, plus a strengthened undercarriage to take extra weight. It has also installed a new interior (with a mix of business-class and economy-class seating), including galleys, overhead lockers and oxygen masks.

Now BASCO is seeking customers for the updated aircraft. The first arrived from Chelal Chelyabinsk Airlines in late May, and is scheduled to go on lease to Iran, via Aircraft Leasing Systems, in July.

BASCO also has new competition in the Il-76 market, with several airlines now offering overhaul services for the freighter.



"One or two of these new competitors are very capable," says Chernaev, "but others need to prove themselves. We are not standing still either. In May, we began the first-ever major overhaul of a Tu-204. We had to pay considerable money to set up for the aircraft and, with only a 6,200ft [1,900m] runway at Bykovo, we opted instead to rent hangarage at nearby Zhukovski for this work.

"Two aircraft are being overhauled - both low-flying-time aircraft from Rossiya, the Government transport company. They were delivered in 1993, but never really entered service, and this overhaul is probably better described as a pre-service check, with some modification work to update them. It should be completed in July."


Exclusive overhaul

BASCO is also the sole overhauler of the Tu-134's powerplant, the Perm/Soloviev D-30. About 250 of the 852 Tu-134s built remain in service, with perhaps 200 more able to be returned to service if traffic picks up.

"We overhaul about ten or 12 D-30s each month, down from 50 or more five years ago. Each one takes 30 days to complete," says Rybin.

"The D-30 is a well-tried engine. Its problems have long since been sorted out and it is reliable, but it is old technology and costly in fuel terms. It can stay in service, as can the Tu-134, for ten to 12 years more if necessary, however," he adds.

As the overhauler, BASCO knows the condition and availability of used aircraft and thus has begun to act as a source of the Yak-42 and the Il-76 for purchasers or lessors. BASCO recently surveyed some aircraft for a Western financier lending to a Russian airline.

"This is a new area of business for us," says Rybin, "but it fits well into our capabilities."

BASCO is looking at a variety of ideas for expansion. Chernaev says: "Firstly, we are checking the possibility of setting up support bases away from Moscow - for example, with the number of Il-76s flying into the United Arab Emirates, it might make sense to open a site there. But this will be costly - apart from hangarage, we would need at least $1 million in equipment, plus more than $1 million in spares stocks, to do that, and we need to be sure that we can be profitable.

Chenaev continues: "We are interested in supporting Western aircraft in Russia and the CIS. The numbers in service here are small, but they are likely to grow, and many of our carriers would choose to have work done here at rates of perhaps $20 per man hour rather than in the West. But, to do this, it would make sense for us to work with a partner experienced in these aircraft. We won't rush into it, but there is a strong likelihood that we will enter the market."

Although many operators want their aircraft overhauled, not all of them are able to pay for it, so BASCO has established a joint venture with NPO Aviatechnologia, a major supplier of high-grade metals for aero engines and airframes. "Now, customers who get metal from them or an overhaul from us, or who get an engine from one of NPO Aviatechnologia's manufacturing customers can pay us by leasing an aircraft to our new joint-venture airline," BASCO says.

This airline, named Remex (short for Remont Exploitation) earns money for the partners and thus pays the operator's bills. An airline with, say, four or five aircraft, can have them overhauled and perhaps leave them with Remex for six months, or leave one aircraft for several years, and continue to operate the others. BASCO has recently set up another joint venture, called Aviation Technologies Investment, to help customers pay for engine overhauls.

With 2,500 staff, Chernaev aims to keep BASCO busy, and has generated flexibility for Russian aviation in his determination to do this.

BASCO's problems have not yet been resolved, but its progressive approach has left it in a stronger position than that of other CIS overhaulers, to survive in an increasingly competitive market.

Source: Flight International