Tuesday, 21 January 2003

British Airways switches to Domodedovo

From July, British Airways passengers flying into Moscow will not face the gloom of Sheremetyevo airport with its too few passport control koisks and luggage carousels as the airline has announced that it will start flying out of Domodedovo Airport on July 1 2003, in a cross-town move that will cost Sheremetyevo one of its biggest clients.

British Airways said the main reason that it decided to switch airports was a common passenger complaint: shoddy service.

"We in BA have decided to make this move because customer service is key to our business and to our success," said Daniel Burkard, British Airways commercial manager for Eastern Europe.

"Domodedovo is a modern, user-friendly airport with a high level of customer appeal. It has state-of-the-art facilities, a good infrastructure, excellent transfer service and is easily accessible," Burkard said at a news conference.

British Airways will continue to offer 14 flights a week from Moscow, as well as its five flights a week from St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport, he said.

Flight schedules will remain the same for now, although the airline is hoping to obtain an 8:05 a.m. time slot by next winter or summer 2004 British Airways, which currently offers 5:45 p.m. and 8:40 p.m. flights to London, had been trying for several years to get a morning time slot at Sheremetyevo.

The airline had been considering switching airports for two years. In making the decision, British Airways will be able to offer passengers a dedicated check-in area and fast service at immigration, customs and security checkpoints. Business and first class passengers will have access to a British Airways lounge.

Passengers also will be able to check in at Paveletsky Station and make the 40-minute trip to the airport by rail.

Built for the 1980 Olympic Games, Sheremetyevo's international Terminal 2 has been unable to cope with the post-Soviet travel boom. Travelers often complain of poor infrastructure and rude staff.

Sheremetyevo has been trying to spruce up its image, but the changes have been mostly cosmetic -- such as free baggage carts.

I, personally, will miss its unique stuffy aroma of Russian cigarettes (papirosa) and dust that hit your nostrils once you step into the arrivals hall.

2002 Review

In 2002, the Russian Economy saw its fourth-consecutive year of solid economic growth; sound budget management that produced another surplus; a stable currency; reasonable inflation; a world-leading stock market; recognition as a market economy; and, of course, a booming oil sector, which is cranking out 8 million barrels per day for the first time in a decade, meaning Russia's most important industry is back where it started. 

The armed conflict in Chechnya continued to cause problems beyond that region, with terrorist acts being carried out in neighbouring regions and as far away as Moscow. These culminated in the tragic events of last October where the armed siege of a Dubrovka theater ended with a tremendous loss of life; although, had the terrorists succeeded in blowing up the building, the number of casualties would have been far higher. The theater recently reopened after an extensive refurbishment and performances of the musical "Nord-Ost" were staged once again.

March 5 this year is the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Stalin and Prokoviev. Prokoviev died on the same day as Stalin, but because of the outpouring of grief and period of official mourning over Stalin's death, it was some time before the country noticed that Prokoviev had also died.

This summer St Petersburg celebrates 300 years since its founding, having had a lick of (gold) paint in preparation of the tercentenary celebrations. Visas for St Petersburg are said to be of limited availability because of the anniversary since officials wish to reserve them for foreign dignitaries.

Thursday, 2 January 2003

Booming Retail Sector drives economy in 2002

The rising standard of living in the capital is evidenced in the booming retail sector, which enjoyed its greatest year of growth ever, with new supermarkets and hypermarkets opening up seemingly every week. Two leading local chains, Perekryostok and Sedmoi Kontinent, for example, opened 37 and 30 new supermarkets each in the last 12 months, while Turkey's Ramstore unveiled two new hypermarkets and global French giant Auchan undercut everyone with its first mega-mart on the Moscow Ring Road. Not to be outdone, Swedish furniture king IKEA, which already considers Moscow the largest potential market in Europe, this month opened the largest mall in Eastern Europe, the 150,000-square-meter MEGA mall, which is anchored by IKEA's third outlet in Russia and Auchan's second.

Apart from the retail sector, if for no other reason, 2002 could be considered a success for putting August 1998 12 months further away, but much more had been hoped for. In many ways, economists say, it seems as if nothing much has changed at all -- Russia remains a country of contradictions, high risks and good intentions, with a government that is at times unwilling and at times unable to push through reforms that virtually everyone agrees are needed.

Delaying such reforms, economists say, jeopardizes current and future economic growth and makes the nation, already considered overdependent on oil, even more so.

Russia's membership of the World Trade Organisation seems no closer today than it did a year ago. In fact, there has been no progress to speak of on any of the major sticking points, which center on protectionist policies on energy prices, agriculture, financial services and telecommunications. The general consensus now is that it could take Russia, the last major economy outside the WTO, as long as five years to join the global trade body.

The government failed, despite its political will, to make major headway on major reforms, including Gazprom, Unified Energy Systems and the banking sector, all of which will remain focal points for domestic and foreign investors who have seen the Kremlin's political power tested and found wanting. The wait could be a long one. With parliamentary elections slated for December followed by presidential elections three months later, many economists fear little if any major reforms will be undertaken in the next 18 months.