Russia's air-cargo operators have been given a reprieve by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) after the general assembly of the international body voted this month to postpone introduction of new engine and avionics standards for seven years.
The ICAO action came after intense lobbying by governments from Russia, Latin America, Asia and Africa. They were opposed to implementation next April of Chapter 3 of the Appendix to the Chicago Convention on international civil aircraft. The chapter imposes new standards for limiting jet-engine noise and for aircraft navigation that would have barred the Ilyushin Il-76TD, the workhorse of the Russian air-cargo fleet, from operating in Europe and North America.
Members of the Russian Association of Air Cargo Companies have been asking the Kremlin to support deferment of the new standards to allow them to modernize their fleets more slowly, and at a lower cost. At one point, several weeks ago, a senior Russian aviation administrator warned that if its aircraft were barred from European airports, Russia might retaliate against European operators using Russian facilities.
Yury Romanenko, secretary of the Russian liaison commission to the ICAO, said: "Nothing changes automatically as a result of the ICAO resolution. The mechanism of defining what aircraft and what companies will be allowed to fly to Europe, for example, is very difficult. Countries with the biggest environmental problems will still be able to limit the flights of aircraft that don't comply with Chapter 3. All of these matters will be settled through negotiations, which will be carried out between these countries and the State Service for Civil Aviation on the Russian side. Decisions will be adopted for individual airports and individual air companies."
Romanenko said he expects that some European airports may be closed to the Il-76, but he does not anticipate a blanket ban.
Dmitry Stolyarov of Volga-Dnepr, Russia's third-largest air-cargo operator, said: "There are a lot of airports that will still prefer to use Russian planes like the Il-76. The decision taken by the ICAO is not only in the interests of Russia, but also in the interests of other countries, both air companies there, the cargo owners and the airports."
Volga-Dnepr, along with East Line, Atlant-Soyuz, Rus, Atran, and Tesis, operate the Il-76 aircraft, which has a payload of 40 tons. Stolyarov said more than 60 percent of the revenues of Russia's air-cargo companies is generated by cargoes of this size.
Altogether, there are an estimated 90 Il-76 aircraft operating in Russia, and an equal number operating with non-Russian companies based outside Russia.
The Russian companies have asked the Kremlin for budget financing of a new company to modernize the Ilyushin aircraft in line with the new standards, relieving the small operators of the heavy capital costs. The low-cost option available calls for improvement of the noise characteristics of D30KP engines, currently operating on the Il-76, by using gas generators from PS-90 engines, and installation of additional navigation equipment to meet the European requirements. The high-cost option requires the replacement of the old engines by PS-90 engines.
Aeroflot, the dominant air-cargo operator in Russia, has decided to replace its Il-76 aircraft with Western-built planes. It has viewed the new regulations as an opportunity to expand its market share at the expense of domestic rivals, especially those offering low freight rates.