VIM-Avia’s charter mess buries China-Kazan flight

The biggest airport of China did not confirm a slot to the Tatarstan capital after problems of the carrier

VIM-Avia’s charter mess buries China-Kazan flight Photo: tourprom.ru

The window that just recently opened from Kazan to the Celestial Kingdom has closed. After a successful maiden flight in May this year, Kazan was crossed out from the Chinese schedule of international flights again. Realnoe Vremya found out the administration of the biggest airport of Beijing denied VIM-Avia airline the slot for a weekly charter flight to Kazan having ''buried'' the unique chance for Kazan to attract curious Chinese tourists in the height of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Two weeks of negotiations did not change the Beijing airport's attitude to VIM-Avia

Constant delays of charter flights of VIM-Avia airline that shocked the Russian tourism market at the beginning of June finally hit the carrier's native region – Tatarstan. A Tatarstan-Chinese tourism programme launched on 31 May this year was breached. Realnoe Vremya found out that after the first direct flight from Beijing to Kazan with the first 282 guests, the biggest airport of Beijing refused to confirm VIM-Avia the given slots to continue weekly charter flights from the capital of China.

This is why VIM-Avia cancelled the second flight from Beijing to Kazan that was scheduled for 6 June and then had to stop other flights. In addition, officials of the airline backed by the Russian Ministry of Transport and the government of Tatarstan have actively negotiated with officials of the Beijing airport to renew the programme in the last 2 weeks. But they have not succeeded yet. So the promising programme on the attraction of guests from China seems to have failed.

''After the first direct flight from Beijing to Kazan with the first 282 guests, the biggest airport of Beijing refused to confirm VIM-Avia the given slots to continue weekly charter flights from the capital of China. Photo: tourism.tatarstan.ru

Kazan International Airport confirmed Realnoe Vremya that the arrival of direct flights from Beijing is not expected at the moment. ''The flight Beijing-Kazan of VIM-Avia airline was on 31 May. This flight was operated within the programme of flights that is created by all interested sides precisely to service the actively developing tourist traffic from China. However, now the airline did not send any information about dates of the next flights,'' the airport's press service informed.

Version by VIM-Avia: Beijing imposed limits due to work load

On 27 June, VIM-Avia confirmed the information about the stop of charter Beijing flights. ''The international airport of Beijing doesn't consider flights to new destinations for several reasons now,'' the press service replied Realnoe Vremya.

According to the airline's version, they did not give the slot because ''China has a huge dissatisfied demand for incoming tourism to Russia''. ''And this demand is so high that aviation authorities of China have to apply limits to confirm flights to new routes like Beijing-Kazan,'' VIM-Avia's press service explained the reason for the unexpected denial 2 weeks ago. ''In this case, the limit on denial of the confirmation of slots for the new destination for the Beijing international capital became formal.''

In addition, the airline emphasises the refusal to arrange Beijing slots has nothing to do with the reduction of the programme of charter flights that VIM-Avia told about on 7 June this year. However, we can't help but note the decision of the Beijing airport to deny the arrangement of the slot coincided with a mass cancellation of VIM-Avia's flights. Realnoe Vremya already wrote that the Russian carrier did not manage to deliver planes on time after a necessary technical service and prepare them for flights.

''The international airport of Beijing doesn't consider flights to new destinations for several reason now,'' the press service replied Realnoe Vremya. Photo: panoramio.com

''VIM-Avia did not recover its programme of charter flights from 15 June de facto as it had promised, and some chains were cancelled until the end of the season, over another 50-70,000 Russians are under possible threat (because of the rate of tour sales according to which the airline cancelled flights),'' the Association of Tourist Operators of Russia notes. VIM-Avia completely cancelled flight programmes to Sochi from Moscow (daily), Ufa (once a week), Kazan (twice a week) and Yekaterinburg (3 times a week). Charter programmes to Simferopol from Moscow (daily), Saint Petersburg, Kazan and Yekaterinburg (twice a week from the mentioned cities) were cancelled.

Punctuality is the only chance to save slots

Independent experts note: the refusal to agree on the slot was punishment for unpunctuality and indiscipline of the airline. ''The airport of Beijing is one of the busiest airports in the world,'' Executive Director of Aviaport agency Oleg Panteleyev says. ''This is why local authorities traditionally carefully follow several airlines operating flights to this airport, keep to a schedule, not only in the case of Russian VIM-Avia. They don't give permission to those who breach it. It is a common practice. It happened to another airline. This is why the maintenance of high regularity is the only way to save slots and not to receive denials,'' he explains. In his opinion, in this case, not Kazan as a destination of the flight but the behaviour of the very carrier was an important moment. ''The thing is that authorities of China require strict timekeeping, no matter what the name of the carrier is and where it needs to fly.''

After the company had problems, the first thing that the Federal Air Transport Agency offered the airline – to reduce the flight programme to China. At the same time, the agency did not revoke permissions of the carrier to fly to the Celestial Kingdom. But the permission to the flight from Irkutsk to Jiamusi was revoked as early as May. Moreover, there was information that VIM-Avia could get additional 25 flights to China. But there is no confirmation of it.

Director of the State Committee for Tourism of the Republic of Tatarstan Sergey Ivanov presented the special tourist programme for the first time at a Russian-Chinese forum in Kazan. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

1001 Delights for Chinese tourists from Sergey Ivanov

We should remind that Kazan launched flights with Beijing after almost a 20-year break. With arrival of the first flight from the Celestial Kingdom, authorities of Tatarstan launched an unusual tourist programme designed to increase the traffic of Chinese guests to Kazan. Sergey Ivanov estimates over 1 million people from China came to Russia in 2016. The annual growth is 15%. And this programme is to help to join the Chinese traffic. Kazan was supposed to weekly host up to 300 guests from China during four months, from June to September. VIM-Avia was chosen as carrier to service this programme. According to Realnoe Vremya, three Chinese tour operators who specialise in sending tourists to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Irkutsk were major partners of the tourist programme. Groups to Kazan were created for the first time having started to sell tours in March this year. A Kazan company called Persona Grata of Ramil Miftakhov who assumed the responsibility for the excursion programme and booking in Kazan hotels was the host.

Director of the State Committee for Tourism of the Republic of Tatarstan Sergey Ivanov presented the special tourist programme for the first time at a Russian-Chinese forum in Kazan. ''We clearly understand that China for us is a strategic partner in tourism development,'' he claimed having told about the concept of development of Tatarstan tourism ''1001 Delights''. Then he demonstrated the rich range of architectural views of the Kazan Kremlin, Great Bolgar on slides. Knowing the love of Chinese tourists for the name of the leader of the October Revolution, Sergey Ivanov reminded that they will be able to visit the Kazan Federal University where Vladimir Lenin studied and his museum. What is more, he added that cruise tours through the Volga conserved, and Kazan is rich in a variety of comfortable hotels. And, of course, the announcement of the direct flight Beijing-Kazan was the highlight of the programme then, which caused an especial inspiration of the Chinese guests. And spectacular football matches of the 2017 Confederations Cup were to be an additional bait.

In fact, it turned out the Tatarstan tourist programme for China was destroyed by Russian VIM-Avia. ''Not only the problem inside the management but also the fact that VIM-Avia did not receive confirmation of the slot from the Beijing airport was the reason,'' Sergey Ivanov is concerned. ''Now we are trying to help the airline to get permission from the Beijing airport. The thing is that it is too busy, the runway is reconstructed at night. This is why they don't confirm a permanent slot to airlines. Now we are doing our best to have their slot for a weekly flight confirmed,'' he told two weeks ago when negotiations on the second agreement of the slot began. ''It is difficult for us to imagine that it is impossible to make time. But this airport is really very busy – a new plane takes off and lands every minute there.''

Director of Persona Grata tourism company Ramil Miftakhov added that the Beijing airport restricted flights to other Russian cities besides Moscow and Saint Petersburg due to a high traffic. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

Kazan hotels could not see Chinese guests

Director of Persona Grata tourism company Ramil Miftakhov added that the Beijing airport restricted flights to other Russian cities besides Moscow and Saint Petersburg due to a high traffic. ''Nothing can be changed at the tourist level now,'' he thinks. ''Federal power needs to interfere here.''

Miftakhov confirms that Beijing airport is one of the biggest ones in the world. ''There are three terminals, three runways. If VIM-Avia did not fly, another airline could have flown,'' he supposes. At the same time, he denies the possibility that the agreement of the slot was denied because of the flight's bad time. ''According to the initial slot, they were to take off from Beijing in the evening, the flight was to last for 6,5 hours. Considering the difference of time zones, they arrive in Kazan in the afternoon. But China is more red taped than we are. This is why everything needs to solved at the level of an intergovernmental agreement, I think.''

In his opinion, 3-4-star hotels of Kazan could suffer from the failure of the programme where up to 140 seats per week were booked.

Meanwhile, VIM-Avia doesn't give up. ''Officials of the company constantly work on this issue together with the management of the Beijing airport, with aviation authorities of China and the Russian Ministry of Transport. Authorities of the Republic of Tatarstan and Kazan International Airport also give much support to develop the route network from Kazan,'' the airline answers. ''Such restrictions are also applied to other airports. The restriction was temporarily lifted at one of them this spring, but it was imposed again then.

Restrictions on slots at airports of China are imposed and lifted by CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China) and are applied to any destination and all the airlines of the world without exception even if the airline has all other necessary permissions to operate flights from aviation authorities of its country and China.

By Luiza Ignatyeva