Western-style maintenance for business aircraft in Russia is beginning to happen.

Paul Duffy/MOSCOW

ALTHOUGH EXECUTIVE aviation was as widely used in the Soviet Union as it was in other parts of the world, generally the aircraft provided for this work were standard versions of commercial airliners in widespread service in the Union.

That began to change early in 1993, when Avcom took delivery of its first British Aerospace 125-700, and started to sell Western standards of executive service. The first customers came from Western industry and, since then, says Avcom's general director, Evgeni Bakhtin, the company has worked to expand its executive services and to improve standards. At first, just the 125 was operated. At the end of 1995, the fleet stood at six, plus two Yakovlev aircraft Yak-40s and one Yak-142 operated for Luk Oil, one of Russia's major industries.

From the start, Avcom and Bakhtin worked with British Aerospace. It started with listening and learning, aircraft selection and crew/personnel training. By early 1994, BAe realised that an active partner would benefit the Moscow operation, and it arranged an introduction to Zimex Aviation, the Zurich, Switzerland-based executive operator, and its president, Hannes Ziegler. The two companies established Zimcom, a joint venture to develop business aviation in Russia.


Partnership priority

Ziegler had already been looking at the Russian market potential, for which he considered a suitable partnership essential. Some of his customers were already using Tupolev Tu-134s and Tu-154s - large, expensive to operate, airliners - to transport small numbers of staff and executives. Zimex had found that operating a foreign-registered aircraft in the CIS attracted high airport, airways and fuel costs, so it considered that a Russian partner would be essential to keep costs down. Previously, Zimex had operated a Beech 200 from Tbilisi in Georgia on a United Nations charter, so experience had been gathered.

Over the next year, the joint operation grew and the partners added an executive lounge with its own customs and immigration services. The fleet expanded - now, three 125s are leased to and operated for dedicated customers. One of these is US company Philip Morris, whose operational staff demand standards above those of the US Federal Aviation Administration.

In August 1995, Zimcom, through its holding company Limess aviation, was awarded its own operator's licence by Russia's air-transport department (ATD). One of the requirements for this was technical support. In the absence of Russian personnel trained to carry out major work on the 125, Avcom had previously sent its aircraft to the West for any major work. Zimcom took the unusual step for Russia of seeking to have one of its own engineers licensed in Russia. The choice fell to Alan Mills, a UK engineer who had trained with BAe and later served in Canada, among other places. There he gained cold-weather experience, a vital element for operating in Russia. He became the first Western engineer to be licensed for executive jets by the Russian ATD.

"While maintenance doesn't offer us much business as yet," says Bakhtin, "it does bring in other work and contacts." This includes, obviously, maintenance work for the two other 125 operators in the Moscow region. As Mills is also licensed on other types, he is sometimes sought by other Western business-jet users visiting Russia's capital. The establishment of a fixed-base operator at Moscow has resulted in Western companies inviting Zimcom to act as an agent. One of Mills' first tasks was to set up a secure stockroom for spares and to draw up the inventory requirements. Then he needed hangarage - a scarcity in Russia. Fortunately, Avcom is based at the Gosnii GA site at Sheremetyevo Airport, and this institute has a hangar big enough to hold two Antonov An-12s. Mills soon established that up to four 125s could be fitted in between the An-12s, and institute director Vitali Goriatchev was happy to oblige.

Zimcom started maintenance work firstly with line maintenance - serving the min.

"This is a considerable saving for us," says Bakhtin, "otherwise we would have had to send the aircraft away for several days, with a minimum of seven non-revenue flight hours."

The next step planned by Mills is to become a European Joint Aviation Authorities/FAA and Raytheon approved maintenance centre for the 125. For this, his first requirement is extra tooling.

Zimcom is now achieving 40-90h utilisation per aircraft per month. "We've even had to turn away business, send it to our rivals," says Arkady Stepanov, Zimcom's director. "We are aware that the work we are doing will make it easier for those who follow us, but we have to stay ahead to remain competitive," he concludes.

Source: Flight International