By Glenn Pew, Contributing Editor, Video Editor
Small private aircraft almost disappeared from Russia during the turmoil of the 1990s but, due to recent changes, they may now be making a very modest comeback in the world's largest country. Russia's borders contain nearly 6.6 million square miles, including thousands of villages not accessible by paved roads. That makes it a potentially active general aviation market. But it wasn't until 2010 that a government decree introduced the concept of uncontrolled airspace and flight without mandatory air traffic control. Since then, more than 3,000 private aircraft and helicopters in the country have been testing the new system and have found that easier access to the air isn't the only problem. Other challenges may still prove substantially crippling in the near term.
Russia's no-fly zones have been reduced from 1200 to 400 and pilots reportedly can gain permission for flights within 30 minutes through an electronic processing system. But foreign-made aircraft are subject to customs duties and value-added tax that can add roughly 40 percent to the purchase price. And if the aircraft's type certificate is not recognized by Russia -- and few, like recent Cessna, Robinson and Aeroprakt models are -- owners can face registration problems. Some pilots have learned to bypass red tape with a loophole that allows aircraft to be recognized as a "custom-made aircraft," after they are modified. But according to the authors of the market guide, Russian Transport, owners are still faced with challenges. Russian regulations are lacking when it comes to light plane maintenance, which, among other things, often means maintenance facilities will not cater to that segment. For those who surmount the hurdles, Russia's vast expanse offers only about 500 airfields that allow light aircraft (which compares to roughly 5,400 in the U.S.). Without government investment in infrastructure and guidelines, GA in Russia could remain the playground of a financially privileged and well connected influential few for many years to come.