The annual report of Russia's Federal Aviation Service (FAS), formerly known as the Air Transport Department of the Ministry of Transport, shows that Russian air traffic continued to decline in 1996, and that financial results were negative. Sources in the FAS say, however, that the figures submitted by some regional offices "-may not be complete" because of "funding shortages".

For 1996, the FAS had originally submitted a budget plan for 170 billion roubles (about $34 million), which included provision for the purchase of a small number of aircraft for state-owned airlines. After discussion with the transport ministry, however, the budget was reduced to $5.6 million, and was approved at this level by the Russian Government. The amount received was little over $2 million, or just 36% of the approved budget and, in real terms, just 22% of the amount paid in 1994.

The sum paid was expected to cover salaries, costs of operation, funding of specified (mainly airport) modernisation programmes, and technical audits - the multitude of controls which all aviation regulatory bodies must enforce. The low amount received meant that salaries in the FAS remained low, and many expert staff have left to find better remuneration elsewhere.

The report quantifies passenger numbers for 1996 at 26.9 million, compared to 31 million the previous year. These passengers were carried over some 65 billion passenger kilometres (pkm) (71 billion pkm in 1995). Ten million international passengers (7.1 million in 1995) were flown 30 billion pkm (23.2 billion in 1995), a figure up by 41%, although domestic numbers were down by almost 30%.

Although cargo-tonne kilometres (tkm) fell by only 2.4%, from 8.5 billion tkm to 8.3 billion, aerial work - mainly agricultural spraying, powerline inspection, mapping and surveying - showed a further massive decline from 2.5 million hours flown in 1995 to just 1.8 million in 1996. Average annual utilisation for the Antonov An-2 has fallen from a 1991 level of 421h to 55h in 1996.

Agriculture ministry sources state that the 1995 level (of 99h) has cost Russia some 30 million tonnes of grain, and that urgent action is needed to save agricultural production.

Worse, while the overall 1995 figure for earnings at Russia's state-owned airlines showed a $7.5 million profit, 1996 resulted in losses of about $300 million.

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia has issued operating licences to some 508 air companies. Of these, 176 have either withdrawn from operations or had their licences cancelled or suspended. Many of the official cancellations have resulted from the operational audits carried out by the FAS and its regional offices. In 1996, no less than 2,855 such audits were carried out in Russia, and a further 254 were conducted outside the country where operators had foreign bases, either temporary or permanent.

In 1996, 43 new operating licences were granted, and some 235 of the 332 current licences were renewed. Nine are described as public organisations, 112 are (fully) state-owned, while the remainder are "shareholder societies" (about equal to limited companies). Of the 390 companies which operated in 1996 (including 58 which were withdrawn from operating during the year), 201 had been established from former Aeroflot departments, 24 from aviation-industry ministry departments and factories, and 165 were "new" operators. Some 201 were, or had been, approved to fly abroad, with 41 of these operating scheduled services. Of these, only 111 operated scheduled services either domestically or internationally (including other CIS states).

A substantial drop in the number of operational airports has also occurred. While the Soviet Union had almost 3,000 airports or airstrips available for civil aviation, Russia itself was left with about 1,380 after 1991. Today, only 845 remain operational (plus 109 grass aerodromes), with 63 of these categorised as being of federal importance, while 52 are available to international operations (against 28 Soviet airports), plus three more as alternates and a further one for "one-off" flights. In Soviet days, only Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport met International Civil Aviation Organisation Category II requirements, while ten others were Cat I airports. Today, there are six Cat II airports. Vnukovo and Domodedovo have been upgraded in Moscow, as have Pulkovo (St Petersburg), Tolmachevo (Novosibirsk) and Mineralnie Voda. Twenty airports are rated Cat I.

This is not ideal, particularly in Russia's difficult weather conditions, but is a marked improvement. The FAS is conscious that more work is needed to upgrade many other airports, and is seeking finance for this in the short-term.

At the beginning of January, some 8,203 aircraft were listed in Russian service: 5,727 fixed-wing and 2,476 helicopters. A total of 1,872 machines was classed as passenger aircraft, while 824 are cargo aircraft. A new category has been recognised - that of general aviation and, in this category, 1,947 aircraft are joined by 545 helicopters and 389 gliders.

The general-aviation sector now has two approved maintenance centres, plus nine training schools, three of which are classed as instructor centres, while six are for the private/amateur pilot.

For commercial aviation, there are three higher colleges of civil aviation, where pilots and engineers are trained; plus 11 medium-level colleges - three for flightcrew, one for flight technical crew, and seven for engineers and technicians. Maintenance centres have grown, from 11 to 15, with approval for third-party maintenance services being granted at four new centres, three belonging to airlines, and one at a research establishment.

Between 1990 and 1995, some 2,172 aircraft were taken out of service. These included 608 helicopters, 1,146 An-2s, seven old piston airliners, 279 turboprops and 132 jet airliners. In 1996, a further 443 came out of service, including 50 jet airliners and 97 turboprops. The FAS is predicting that a further 885 jet airliners will be withdrawn in the next five years - Tupolev Tu-134s and Tu-154s; Ilyushin Il-62/76/86s and Yakovlev Yak-40/ 42s, leaving just 679 of these types in Russian service by the end of 2001.

With these numbers of aircraft, assuming an annual utilisation of 1,200 flying hours, and 2h sectors for the Tupolev and Yakovlevs, with 4h sectors for the Ilyushins, Russia's airlines could still, theoretically, carry some 34 million passengers - and that ignores Western aircraft in service, or new Russian/CIS types such as the Ilyushin Il-96 or the Tupolev Tu-204. It is, therefore, still premature to predict any rush by Russia's airlines to order large numbers of Western-manufactured aircraft.

With some exceptions, average utilisation of aircraft has fallen again. Small regional airliners have also recorded major decreases, with figures for the Yak-40 dropping from 1,205h in 1991 to 466h in 1995 and 314h in 1996. Figures for the Let L-410 are 628h in 1991, 126h in 1995 and 88h in 1996. Corresponding figures for the Antonov An-28 were 453h, 139h and 85h, while, for the An-24, the figures were 1,651h, 733h and 570h.

Average utilisation of passenger jet-airliners of larger capacity dropped by 40-50% in the 1991-6 period, with utilisation of the smaller cargo carrying aircraft falling, by between 66% and 90%.

Utilisation of Western aircraft is high - Aeroflot Russian International Airlines' (ARIA) two Boeing 767-300ERs averaged 4,696h in 1996; the Airbus A310s averaged 4,008h; while Transaero's Boeing 757s achieved 3,853h. Figures for the six Boeing 737-200s in Russian service are not given for the year, but the first nine months is reported as 2,406h, while 1,573h was achieved by the three McDonnell Douglas DC-10s in service in the nine months.

The best average for a Russian aircraft was 1,626h, achieved by the Il-96-300 fleets of ARIA and Domodedovo. Not reported is the sole Tu-204 in service throughout the year, although Vnukovo Airlines says that it flew 1,100h (see chart).

The report lists staff in commercial aviation at 257,500, including some 29,300 flightcrew (cockpit and cabin) and some 36,900 engineers and technicians. It does not indicate whether this covers state-owned "companies" or all operators, but it excludes general aviation. The average monthly wage was about $360. Numbers show a 2% fall on those of 1995.

The report expresses concern at a marked worsening of the safety standards in freight operations. From about one accident per 100,000 flight hours in the last five years of the Soviet Union, this grew to 1.7 in 1994, fell slightly to 1.3 in 1995, but soared to 3.5 in 1996.

There was only one accident to a scheduled passenger flight - five passengers died when a Yak-40 landed on a ramp in poor weather conditions at the ungraded airport of Khanti-Mansiisk in October. The worst accident was in August, when 141 crew and passengers died when a Vnukovo Tu-154M hit high ground on approach to Spitzbergen, Norway. This was a charter flight, and was the first fatal accident to a Vnukovo aircraft since its foundation as an Aeroflot unit in 1936.

All in all, it was a difficult year for Russia's airlines and aviation authority - a year in which the airlines acquired only five new aircraft from CIS factories, plus a small number of re-imported Soviet aircraft and seven used Western airliners.

The FAS has now added a new criterion for certification - adequate finance. Perhaps this will mark a new beginning for Russian air transport.

Source: Flight International