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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sheremetyevo Opens 2nd Runway

Sheremetyevo international airport opened a second runway Friday, completing a nine-year renovation that promises an end to delays that have dogged landings and takeoffs from Moscow's main hub.

Spectators cheered as a giant Aeroflot Il-96 aircraft rolled down the runway after an inauguration ceremony that included a blessing by a group of Russian Orthodox priests and a chorus of fatigue-clad soldiers.

"This is the first step in our efforts to rid Sheremetyevo of congestion and at the same time raise passenger traffic to higher levels," Sheremetyevo general director Sergei Sutulov said at a news conference after the inauguration.

He added that the second runway, built to withstand all kinds of aircraft in all weather conditions, would significantly reduce waiting time for the 350 aircraft that land and take off each hour at Sheremetyevo.

The airport was renovated for the 1980 Olympics to accommodate 6 million passengers a year at a time of negligible foreign 2005. Freight traffic also grew 5 percent last year.

The need for improvements was made embarrassingly clear in 1995 when blistering summer temperatures caused Sheremetyevo's sole runway to buckle, putting a stop to all air traffic.

Last August, the federally owned airport decided to finance the $70 million runway project out of its own pocket after a funding crisis in the early '90s put a stop to construction.

Leonid Kligerman, a representative of Transaero, Russia's largest private airline, said his company is delighted by the event, which should reduce waiting time for the 35 Transaero flights that use Sheremetyevo's facilities daily.

"At the moment, the planes have to line up in order to take off and delays are common," Kligerman said. "We hope this will save our passengers much inconvenience.

The new runway is a big plus for Sheremetyevo, which is competing against Moscow's three other airports, especially Domodedovo southeast of the city. Domodedovo has two wide-spaced runways and adequate room for a third.

The runway is expected to enable Sheremetyevo to handle more flights officials said, although exact figures were not available. Recently the airport, which earlier served only foreign airlines and major domestic companies, opened its doors to all Russian airlines in an effort to improve its revenues.

Officials also announced details of a three-step plan to convert Sheremetyevo into a key international hub for flights to foreign, domestic and CIS destinations.

Long delays, slow customs and immigration procedures and technical problems have so far prevented Sheremetyevo from taking advantage of Moscow's strategic location between Asia and Europe. To achieve this aim, Sheremetyevo-I and II, the two terminals located on opposite sides of the two runways, united to form a single double-terminal airport last year.

Sutulov welcomed plans by the Moscow city government to acquire a 50 percent stake in Sheremetyevo. "If Moscow becomes a shareholder, it can only help the airport," Sutulov said in an interview.

He said the airport will try to raise the $300 to 400 million needed over the next five to seven years for its renovation plans through loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as from private investments. A significant portion could come from the city of Moscow, if it becomes a shareholder.

Moscow's First Deputy Mayor Oleg Tolkachov said the city is contemplating investing up to $300 million in Sheremetyevo if the city wins a stake. More importantly, it may procure Sheremetyevo additional land for a third 650-meter runway, which could play a deciding role in its success.

Foreign airlines, such as Lufthansa, have recently opened more direct international flights to cities in Russia's provinces, bypassing Moscow. But Sutulov said he wanted to attract a greater share of that traffic to his airport. "We are going to make this airport as profitable as possible," Sutulov said.

In 1994, Sheremetyevo was organized into a joint stock company but remains 100 percent state-owned. Sutulov said privatization is on the card but could give no time frame.

Other plans include improving transfer facilities to the city center and raising the share of nonaviation-related profits in Sheremetyevo revenues, opening more shops and parking lots.