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Family affair

How can Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport compete against the giants on its doorstep – Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo? Justin Burns investigates.

It may come as surprise to many, but Moscow’s airport system isn’t just made up of the big boys Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo, and their “little brother” Vnukovo, is beginning to make an impression.

How so? Well, passenger traffic at Vnukovo International Airport grew at a faster rate than either of its rivals last year, arguably demonstrating that it is finally beginning to emerge from their shadows.

The upturn, a healthy 15.2% rise on 2012, meant that 11.18 million passengers passed through Vnukovo last year.

And 2013 was a landmark year for Vnukovo in more ways than one, as Moscow’s oldest airport and Russia’s fourth busiest commercial gateway used it to complete or put the finishing touches to a number of key projects in its seven-year, €2 billion transformation programme.

New additions under the programme include a newly lengthened 3,000m runway, apron and taxiways as well as the state-of-the-art $1.8 billion Terminal A, which has effectively raised the airport’s capacity to 30 million passengers per annum.

Boasting cutting edge technology and 52 gates, the new 270,000sqm terminal is one of the biggest in Europe.

Last year also saw the opening of Vnukovo-3, one of Europe’s largest facilities for the handling, operation, maintenance and repair of executive jets.

The complex has two VIP terminals, apron and hangars capable of handling up to 3,200 flights a month. Operators at the facility include RusJet Aircompany, FBO Vipport, Jet Aviation and Aeropit.

The pride in seeing the completion of the terminal and new runway was evident in a beaming Vitaly Vantsev, chairman of the board of directors at Vnukovo, when he spoke to Airport World in Moscow.

“Enhancing the passenger experience, raising our capacity and offering something we feel that travellers cannot get at Moscow’s other airports were the primary focus of our expansion programme,” reveals Vantsev.

“For us, it is all about the passenger experience and making sure that everyone is handled with care and respect. We want our passengers to enjoy themselves. This means that the facilities must be convenient and the services provided are fast and efficient. Creating the right ambience is also important.”

  

Next on the agenda

Although the current investment programme may be coming to an end, Vantsev is quick to point out that it is far from the end in terms of the ongoing efforts to upgrade the airport.

Indeed, more developments are planned and Vantsev believes that another €300 million needs to be spent on infrastructure enhancement projects at Vnukovo Airport over the next 10 years.

Next up is the opening of a new Hilton Hotel later this year and the construction of a new aircraft maintenance and repair facility to make the airport more attractive to airlines.

The new hotel will be linked to the terminal area via an underpass to shield guests from the extreme weather conditions Moscow can experience during the winter and summer periods.

According to Vantsev, improving speed and access for passengers into the heart of Moscow is also a key priority, so Vnukovo’s board of directors are working with the state on plans to build a metro line station within the next three years.

Quick and easy

Vantsev believes that the layout and design of its terminals makes getting around the airport very easy and convenient for passengers.

It also means the Vnukovo is able to offer some of the world’s shortest transfer times for passengers connecting between domestic and international flights – 20 minutes on some routes.

“When passengers enter Vnukovo, they do not need to think too hard about where they want to or need to go, as everything is very logical,” he notes. “All they need to understand really is which parts of the airport handle domestic and international flights.

“Everything is designed for the passenger and their comfort, like the rest rooms, bars, shops and other facilities such as a fountain in Terminal A where you can feel like you are in the tropics while having a coffee.”

Airlines

Situated 28 kilometres from the Kremlin, Vnukovo is the closest of Moscow’s three airports to the city centre and a direct train links it in 35 minutes.

The convenience of its location ensures that it is popular with Muscovites, even if it does currently lack the expansive global route networks of Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo.

So what type of airlines is Vnukovo aiming to attract? “We are focused on airlines which provide premium class services to passengers who want comfort and are willing to pay for it,” admits Vantsev.

The comment is slightly misleading, for although the airport is always looking to expand its offering to business passengers to capitalise on its close proximity to Moscow’s central business district, it is certainly not simply an airport used by business travellers.

Indeed, carriers serving Vnukovo today include low-cost carrier Germanwings, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

New arrivals attracted by the developments include Transaero, while UTAir and Star Alliance members Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines have increased flight frequencies.

Vantsev reveals that the airport is in negotiations with SWISS to launch flights later this year.

Aeronautical revenues currently account for 60% of the airport’s income, but Vantsev is keen to reduce this figure in the future to make the airport less dependent on the airlines.

The opening of a diverse range of new retail and F&B outlets in Terminal A will certainly boost Vnukovo’s income from shopping and dining, and more could follow in the future as Vantsev bids to maximise commercial opportunities across the airport site.

 

Ownership

Historically viewed as being the airport of the mayor of Moscow, Vnukovo is actually majority owned by the Russian government.

However, this could all change shortly following confirmation of the government’s intention to effectively privatise Vnukovo by selling its stake in the companies responsible for operating it by 2016.

The government currently owns 74.74% of Vnukovo Airport JSC, and 25% plus one share of the International Vnukovo Airport company.

The sale would allow for the formation of a new operating company in 2016 that will consolidate all the assets of Vnukovo Airport JSC, International Vnukovo Airport and the
companies responsible for providing aircraft fuelling and ground handling services.

Rising competition

The Moscow aviation market is evolving rapidly and grew by 14% in 2013, which, according to the Russian government, was above the world growth average of 4.6%.

Indeed, Moscow’s three airports handled more than 70 million passengers between them last year – Domodedovo leading the way with 30.76 million (+9.2%), followed by Sheremetyevo with 29.3 million (+11.7%) and Vnukovo with 11.18 million.

Vantsev predicts that the growth trajectory will continue and estimates that in 10 years time, Moscow will be handling 130-140mppa.

“I think there will be a great increase in passengers in Moscow and the infrastructure for this number of passengers is already there, so it is achievable and we can develop up to this,” Vantsev comments.

Upgrades have enabled Vnukovo to go head-to-head with Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo, and Vnukovo’s expansion has given it huge potential for growth compared to its competitors, according to Vantsev.

“We have about 25-30% of the whole market, which is our aim. However, it is worth noting that the terminal infrastructure at Domodedovo totals 160,000sqm, whereas at Vnukovo we have 270,000sqm. So, we have plenty of scope to handle more traffic.”

Fourth Moscow airport

Moscow’s aviation potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by others, of course, and there now lies the very real prospect of new airports opening up in direct competition to Domodedovo, Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo in the future.

Indeed, plans were recently announced for a fourth airport aimed at low-cost carriers at Ramenskoye (see box story) and a possible development at Yermolino, 72 kilometres southwest of Moscow.

Vantsev was quite coy on their potential effect, but predicts it will take five or six years for one to be constructed at Yermolino, due to the regulations and laws existing on airport expansion.

“There is a lot of work to be done on laws and regulations – it is, for example, impossible at the moment to develop the low-cost and discounted market for airports in Moscow,” he explains.

Long-term growth

Vnukovo is forecasting it will handle an extra one million passengers this year and believes that it can sustain such a phenomenal annual growth rate for the foreseeable future.

Its calculations are based on the fact that Vnukovo has witnessed a 26% surge in passenger traffic since the December 2013 opening of its new runway, and rising interest from airlines in launching new services.

“Our goal is to handle 30 million passengers every year. This is the figure myself and my partners aimed at six years ago when we decided to develop the airport, and I don’t see a reason to change my mind now,” enthuses Vantsev.

But for the time being, Vantsev says it is all about putting the finishing touches to his and his partners’ vision of offering outstanding levels of customer service at Vnukovo.

To achieve this, he says, everyone needs to embrace the airport’s customer service philosophy and more staff need to provide “the personal touch” when dealing with passengers.

“Adding personal touch is key for any world-class airport,” says Vantsev. “Arguably, we have done the hard part in upgrading Vnukovo’s infrastructure, now it is all about improving the quality of our services and what we can offer our passengers.”

Fourth Moscow gateway?

Avia Solutions Group has signed an agreement with Russian state-owned holding company, Rostec, to establish a joint business venture to develop and manage a fourth Moscow airport on the site of the existing Ramenskoye airfield.

Ramenskoye International Airport, as it would be known, would be built to meet demand for low-cost travel and will have a capacity of 12mppa.

Avia Solutions Group is to invest $30 million into the company’s share capital and control up to 75% of the newly established company stocks.

Rostec will contribute by bringing in land and real estate currently under its ownership in Ramenskoye, and in seven years time, the total investment is expected to top $236 million.

Avia Solutions Group and Rostec will conduct the Ramenskoye development project in three stages, and plan on completing it between 2014-2019.

At the moment the airfield, also known under the name of Zhukovsky, has two runways, including one of the longest in Europe at 5.4 kilometres.

To transform the airfield into a full-fledged international airport a passenger terminal will be built and appropriate services established.

In the first stage, existing facilities of Ramenskoye aerodrome will be supplemented with a new 7,000sqm terminal capable of serving up to 1.8mppa.

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