Moscow is a city of superlatives. Not just the capital of the Russian Federation — and the former power center of the USSR — Moscow is also the most populous city in Russia (with more than 11.5 million residents), the largest city in Europe and the northernmost “megacity” (one with a population exceeding 10 million) on earth. It is divided into 10 okrugs and 123 districts.
Dating from the 12th century and named for the Moskova River, the city dominates the political, economic, educational and scientific, religious and cultural life of the vast Russian territory (the largest national entity on the planet). It is also one of Europe's major transportation centers featuring nine rail terminals; a growing network of highways, including concentric “ring roads” encircling the city; and a vast underground metro system, among the deepest in the world (up to 84 meters below the surface) and graced with lavish stations that constitute works of art.
It is also served by five commercial airports: Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, Vnukovo, Ostafyevo and Bykovo.
Of these, business aviation users typically access the first three, with Vnukovo (UUWW) being the most popular and best equipped to cater to the needs of private and chartered business jets. Commissioned in 1937, UUWW is Moscow's oldest airport, currently handling mostly domestic airline traffic and 80% of the business aviation traffic visiting Moscow. One of the five busiest airports in Europe, Vnukovo is often congested, requiring business aviation operators to be flexible with their scheduling.
Sheremetyevo (UUEE), which opened in 1959, was Moscow's principal international airport until it was eclipsed by the larger Domodedovo International Airport in 2003. There are two autonomous terminal complexes at Sheremetyevo located on opposite sides of the field's parallel runways, effectively making UUEE two airports sharing the same runways. As Sheremetyevo is currently undergoing an ambitious modernization with many promised improvements, it is expected to attract some business aviation traffic away from Vnukovo. “Sheremetyevo is definitely on a buildup track,” Pete Lewis, senior vice president, global partnership management, at Universal Weather & Aviation, told BCA, “and operators may want to look at it as an alternative due to the fact that, like Vnukovo, it is close to the city.”
Domodedovo International (UUDD) is Moscow's newest airport and the largest in Russia in terms of traffic, with nearly 27 million passengers passing through it in 2011. Opened in 1965, UUDD serves as the hub for 57 domestic and international airlines. The field's three parallel runways are sufficiently separated to permit simultaneous operations under IMC, allowing up to 70 movements per hour. The two longest runways were recently reinforced to accommodate ultra-large widebody transports, such as the Airbus A380.
But currently, Vnukovo is the place to go for business aviation, according to Lewis. “Vnukovo is a well-equipped airport with fantastic facilities in many ways,” he said. “Its business aviation facility is the 'Vipport,' sort of like an FBO.”
Also known as “the business terminal” or Vnukovo-3, the Vipport is actually a landlord that houses several service businesses as partnerships, including Jet Aviation and charter/management company RusJet. As such, it's a one-stop av center. In addition to its business tenants, the Vipport facility contains several passenger lounges and a flight planning center. “They do a good job,” Lewis said, “and they do observe our regulations, so you can feel comfortable operating there — but it is very expensive. It's a top-tier facility in terms of cost of services and fees.”
Russian Customs is located at the Vipport and offers efficient processing — as long as the facility isn't too crowded — which it often is. “Occasionally, the facility is overwhelmed with the large number of people getting in or out,” Lewis said. “Typically, they will park you on a ramp space and send transportation to bring you into the terminal — not everyone can park out front. They do have hangar availability but it is highly in demand, so reserve early.”
Fuel is never a problem in terms of availability and — surprisingly — is not overly expensive. It's not a bad idea to fuel on arrival, due to the congestion, but don't count on being able to get a truck to the aircraft when you want it, due to demand.
And be prepared for heart-stopping fees, as Moscow is one of the most-expensive international destinations to which you'll operate (see “City at a Glance” summary). Lewis claimed that Sheremetyevo “has been running a little more than half of Vnukovo's fees.”
Lewis, who travels frequently to Eastern Europe on behalf of Universal Weather, also commented on Russia's indigenous business aviation. “IBAC [the International Business Aviation Council] has had some influence on the Russians to move forward in terms of regulations and standards,” he said. “They have adopted IS-BAO [International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations] and improved their regs and infrastructure to take advantage of visiting business aviation. They are starting to make some good connections on what business aviation can bring to the country. I feel strongly they are moving in the right direction. The Russian United Business Aviation Association is doing good work. The enhancement of the available facilities at Vnukovo is what the operator will see in terms of these steps forward.”
It should be noted that congestion at Vnukovo due to the opening of a new passenger terminal and ongoing government VIP flights that temporarily close the airport has accelerated plans by the Moscow airport authorities to open a dedicated business and general aviation airport at a former military base 40 sm west of Moscow at Kubinka. Construction of an executive-level FBO representing the first phase of the base conversion is expected to begin this summer.