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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Airlines Race Against Europe Ban

Russian aviation companies are facing the loss of access to European airspace and their most lucrative market unless they install new safety and noise-reduction equipment in their aircraft.

But the cost of installing the equipment, as required by Eurocontrol and the International Civil Aviation Organization, means companies will have to pay millions of dollars to update their fleets.

The safety equipment comprises of navigation systems that are required as a result of increased air traffic in European airspace, according to Sergei Belov, deputy head of St. Petersburg-based Pulkovo Airlines, the nation's No. 2 carrier.

The original deadline for installation of the equipment was March 31, but some aviation companies are requesting extensions that would keep aircraft in European airspace without the systems.

"Some airline operators [including Russian companies] have had problems installing the equipment," said John Law, a spokesperson for Eurocontrol, a service that oversees European air-traffic safety and collects fees from companies that use European airspace.

'Russian aviation companies will need around $1 million per aircraft.'
— Paul Duffy

Law said that such operators could apply for a maximum six-month extension to the deadline.

"This is not a last-minute request," said Chris Mason, press spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority in Britain.

"Airlines have known for a number of years that this equipment has to be installed."

Among the Russian-made passenger aircraft affected are the Tu-134 and 154 and the Il-62. Cargo planes affected include the Il-76.

According to Paul Duffy, an independent aviation analyst based in Moscow, European aviation authorities have over the past few years introduced a series of rules that require planes to be fitted with a Traffic Collision Avoidance System.

Belov said in an interview Monday that the cost of the TCAS would come to $250,000 per plane, although Eurocontrol's Law gave a lower figure of $150,000, "or [up to] $200,000 if the plane is older."

In addition, planes in European airspace now require a system known as an RVSM, which allows aircraft to fly at a lower vertical separation than before, plus a more accurate navigation system.

"To fit a single airplane with these three pieces of equipment, Russian aviation companies will need around $1 million per aircraft, plus extra for the noise-reduction kits," Duffy said by telephone Monday.

"Most of them don't have that money."

Travelers from Russia to Europe may therefore be faced with the possibility that domestic air companies will be permitted to operate fewer aircraft in Europe's crowded skies.

Pulkovo is already talking of increased costs for passenger and cargo operations.

Belov said that Pulkovo had applied for an extension to the deadline. He added that the company already had 15 of its aircraft fitted with the new equipment.

"We're planning to install it in more [of the fleet] by Oct. 1, and the rest during the winter season next year when we have fewer flights to Europe," he said.

However, Duffy said that Eurocontrol and the ICAO may not grant the full six months to Russian air companies.

"There needs to be a lot of goodwill on the European side," he said, "and an active view that [Russian air companies] are doing something to install the systems for extensions to be granted."

More expensive is the installation of noise-reduction equipment, which in the case of some aircraft would require the installation of a completely new engine.

The Tu-134, for example, qualifies as a "noisy" plane, said Belov, and will need overhauling. Pulkovo owns 11 Tu-134s, as well as 21 Tu-154s and nine Il-86s.

Belov said, however, that the international noise-reduction requirements will come into effect only in April 2002.

"A Tu-134 costs around $500,000 to $600,000," said Duffy.

"While each new engine would cost from $2 million to $3 million — much higher than the commercial value of the aircraft."