Golden Toilets and Outdated Laws at Air Show

ExpotechA customized Tu-134 that will be shown at the International Trade Air Show.
Aircraft makers will be rolling out their flashiest models for private and corporate buyers this weekend at the International Trade Air Show, hoping to win a piece of the country's rapidly growing market for noncommercial jets.

Organizers hope that the show -- which started Thursday at Domodedovo Airport and will be open to the public on Saturday and Sunday -- will also draw attention to the country's outdated aviation legislation, which they say is hampering the sector's development.

"The Russian aviation market is growing by 30 to 40 percent per year, and investors are willing to invest funds," said Vladimir Ber, the head of ExpoTech, which organized the show. "The only problems are the country's customs policy and Air Code."

Russia has lagged behind other countries in accommodating business aviation, even though some 300 foreign-made and 200 domestic planes are now owned or operated on behalf of Russian citizens, according to data from the Russian Business Aviation Association.

The association is a co-backer of the event with MAKS, which holds a biennial, weeklong show at Zhukovsky Airfield outside Moscow. The Transportation Ministry, the Economic Development Ministry and the Moscow region government are among the show's state supporters, Ber said.

Executives spent $2.5 billion on business jets last year, and the figure is expected to continue growing. The boom has attracted 43 foreign and domestic companies to this year's show, which is expected to draw more than 10,000 visitors from all over the country.

Fifteen planes and helicopters, including aircraft from foreign firms Diamond, Gulfstream, Cessna and Eclipse, will be on display.

Domestic producer Tupolev is showing off a Tu-134 liner outfitted to provide maximal comfort in a luxuriously designed interior, with eye-catching details such as a golden toilet and sink. And in a country with more than 100 billionaires at Forbes' last count, designers can afford to err on the exorbitant side.


Expotech
The posh interior of the Tu-134, which also boasts a golden toilet and sink.
But not every customer is in the market for a giant plane costing more than $20 million, show spokesman Pavel Bragin said. Larger planes are generally not economical for private or corporate use, which is why smaller, eight- to 10-seat business jets are growing more popular.

One such craft, Action Aviation Company's Sino Swearingen SJ-30, will be presented for the first time in Russia and Eastern Europe at this weekend's show. "This is the only business-class aircraft that costs less than $8 million," Bragin said.

Currently, Russian firms do not build planes for eight to 10 passengers, and because the customs fee for bringing a foreign-built jet into Russia is 40 percent, most private planes are registered abroad. "If the taxes were more reasonable, people would buy more jets and pay taxes here, not abroad. It also would help to create more jobs," Ber said.

As many as 100 foreign-made business jets are expected to be delivered annually to Russian owners in the next few years, said Konstantin Sigalov, the deputy head of Aerolimousine, which operates chartered business flights. A liberalization of the rules for these aircrafts' flights would considerably boost sales, he said.

To take off aboard a private plane in Russia, it is necessary to request permission from a special air-traffic control service. In other countries, a simple notification is all that is required, Sigalov said. Nonetheless, an average of 100 noncommercial flights are handled daily by Moscow's airports.

"If you want to fly to France, for instance, you need permission from France. But the thing that seems completely nonsensical to me is that you need permission from Russia, too," Sigalov said.

This permission, he said, can be obtained only during the control service's office hours -- considerably hampering last-minute flights, although exceptions are made in the event of medical emergencies. The flyer also needs a ticket to be allowed on board his own plane.

The industry saw hope, however, in comments made by a former prime minister earlier this year.

"We need to change our Air Code, which does not address general aviation issues properly," Sergei Stepashin, now head of the Audit Chamber, said in February in Ulyanovsk, where he laid the cornerstone of a future aircraft plant.

How to get there:
By train: From metro station Paveletskaya, go to Pavaletsky Station and take an Aeroexpress train to Domodedovo Airport. From the airport, take a shuttle to the air show.
By bus: Take an Air Bus to Domodedovo Airport, and then a shuttle to the air show.
By car: Drive to Domodedovo, then follow "air show" signs. Please, reserve a parking place in advance.


Tickets cost about 400 rubles. For more information: www.en.bizav.ru