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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pulkovo Shutdown Has Airlines Scrambling

With Pulkovo Airport shutting for three days to service VIP visitors coming for St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary, some carriers are scratching their heads and wondering how they will handle previously booked commercial flights.

Airlines polled Tuesday said they were less than pleased with the Pulkovo shutdown, which starts May 30. Many said the airport's delay in notifying them of the upcoming restrictions has sent them searching for ways to service passengers.

"We received notification from Pulkovo only a week and a half ago, and we were not happy," Dmitry Zelenin, Lufthansa's commercial representative, said by phone from St. Petersburg.

Zelenin said that some 12 Lufthansa flights will be affected. "These flights are sufficiently booked as this is a classic tourism period. So far the situation is not clear whether we will cancel or reschedule those flights."

The airport handles some 40 domestic flights and over a dozen international flights per day. In addition to the tricentennial, the city will also host a meeting of G8 leaders.

Airlines complained that since early this year, they have only heard speculation about the closure. Many of them said they received official notification in mid-March after booking a significant number of tickets for the celebration.

Deputy Transport Minister Karl Ruppel said Tuesday that the airport will be closed for both security reasons and a lack of sufficient parking space due to as many as 100 VIP flights.

Despite complaints by the airlines, the limitations on flights are consistent with the International Civil Aviation Organization's charter allowing such restrictions in exclusive situations provided they are equal for all carriers, Ruppel said.

All carriers operating in Pulkovo were notified in early February about limitations, said Kamil Feizrakhmanov, of the State Civil Aviation Service.

To compensate for the flight restrictions, airlines have been told they can either fly their passengers to Moscow's Domodedovo and Vnukovo airports or have additional flights on dates either before or after the celebrations. The Railways Ministry promised to boost services between Moscow and St. Petersburg, Ruppel said.

Ruppel said he could not remember a similar airport closure to regular flights, but said the event will serve the travel industry well with many people taking back fond memories of the city.

Both Ruppel and Feizrakhmanov said carriers understand the situation and have not complained. But airlines representatives expressed dissatisfaction.

"We understand the issue, but it took so long to find out what will happen," said Altug Bekdemir, Austrian Airlines manager for Russia. "We have 150 passengers booked for four flights, we have to take care of them. [How] is a good question."

KLM commercial representative Andrei Gusarov said that although notification falls within the 60 days requirement under international regulations, an earlier announcement would have been better. Gusarov said airlines are unlikely to use the additional flights, as they will be difficult to organize.

"We are now contacting approximately 500 passengers currently booked to offer them alternative flights, either on different dates or to other destinations like Moscow," British Airways said in a statement.