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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Airports Want Military Out of Cargo Market

The military's use of its aircraft and airfields for commercial cargo transportation is jeopardizing flight safety and eroding private sector revenues, civil airports lamented Monday in an appeal to the government to introduce fair rules for all.

Of 540,000 tons of air cargo carried last year, at least 10 percent was serviced by the air force or carried on craft belonging to aviation plants, which the civil airports also accuse of exploiting unfair advantages.

"This compares with the volumes of Vnukovo Airport, which serviced 44,000 tons of cargo last year," said the Airport Association's general director, Viktor Gorbachyov.

He added that with 10 military airfields active in the Moscow region alone, the city's four civil airports -- Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, Vnukovo and Bykovo -- are operating well below capacity.

Civil aviators have long harbored a grudge against the air force's commercial entrepreneurs for providing what they say is low-quality service at rock-bottom prices and stealing their clients. On the popular Chinese route, their share is estimated at 15 percent.

"A flight hour on an Il-76 with the air force costs $600, and $1,700 with a civil company," Gorbachyov said.

Supported by the budget, the military does not have to pay for its fuel, and nor does it reinvest its revenues into technical support and maintenance of aircraft and airfields, he said. According to the Airport Association, 30 percent of military cargo transportation revenues go to the Defense Ministry and the rest to the Finance Ministry. Meanwhile, civil companies have to rely on their own resources to ensure quality service and operate under much stricter regulations.

"Very often there is no flight safety inspection, no control is ensured during cargo loading, which leads to excess weight," Gorbachyov said of the military's cargo operations, adding that civil aviation authorities have limited access to military airfields.

As an example, he pointed to the July crash of an overloaded Il-76 cargo plane belonging to the private Rus airline that had taken off from the military's Chkalovsky airfield. The accident, in which 10 crew members died, highlighted drawbacks in the operation of such airfields, he said.

"We want the government to pay attention to this problem and ban them from carrying out commercial flights," Gorbachev said.

Domodedovo airport general director Sergei Rudakov was less adamant, but called for the State Civil Aviation Service to put an end to the double-standards in the issuing of licenses for commercial operations. "Flight safety and fair competition should be ensured," he said.

Yury Baranov, head of airport management at the State Civil Aviation Service, said the government had told the Transport Ministry, Defense Ministry and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency to prepare a set of rules applicable to all airports operating commercial flights. He said that requirements would be toughened for military airfields.

Gorbachyov said that with civil airports operating under capacity and some $300 million needed to upgrade each military airfield to civil standards, it would still make more sense to ban them from commercial operation.

The air force was not available for comment Monday afternoon.