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Investment projects, state incentives needed to boost Arctic aviation, experts say

For residents of many Arctic settlements a helicopter flight is the only option to get to a regional center or a big city

TASS, April 8. Implementation of investment projects for natural resources development in the Russian Arctic zone will boost aviation in the North. This business stimulus plus the state’s participation in logistics and infrastructure projects and funding of local airlines are the key to enhancing the accessibility of the Russian Arctic’s most hard-to-reach settlements, experts told TASS.

In March, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin inked a decree on the national policy in the Arctic to 2035. The document pays special attention to the aviation sector. Affordable year-round long-distance, inter-regional and local flights are among priority tasks for the Arctic zone’s social development. The priority infrastructure tasks include the development of a network of airports and runways.

Waiting for flight

As many settlements in the Arctic are not connected by roads, aviation is the only way to travel. For example, for residents of many Arctic settlements a helicopter flight is the only option to get to a regional center or a big city. However, helicopter flights depend greatly on weather conditions, and in bad weather people have to line up to get to the mainland. For example, in the Krasnoyarsk Region, routes from Ust-Avam and Volochanka are very popular, but passengers sometimes have to wait for months to get onboard.

"It is not that you buy a ticket and can be sure you’ll fly. It is only right before the flight departure that you will learn whether you fly or not. Chances depend on luck, and whether you managed to get through to the call center to book the flight a week in advance. If, for example, you failed to depart, your place on the line is lost, and you have to call and re-book again a week before the flight. Last autumn, we had to be dialing and dialing for six weeks," a teacher from Taimyr’s Volochanka settlement, Denis Terebikhin, told TASS.

The regional authorities allocate big money every year to improve the situation, but it does not change much, they say. "In order to provide regional and local carriages in the Krasnoyarsk Region, we need additional funds, about 1.11 billion rubles ($14.5 million)," the region’s Minister of Transport Konstantin Dimitrov told TASS.

Role of the state

Experts in the regions say: it may be possible to solve the problem of aviation communication in the North exclusively with active involvement of the state; regions are unable to improve the situation on their own. Many regions though can boast successful examples of public-private partnership, like, for example, renovation of the airport in Norilsk, which has been turned into a modern airport complex in the Russian Arctic. Meanwhile the federal budget will finance the overhaul of the airport complex in Naryan-Mar in the Nenets Region, which is to complete in 2024. The Arkhangelsk Region is renovating an airport on the Solovki. Chukotka plans to reconstruct the runway at the Pevek Airport, and to develop infrastructure at the Omolon Airport.

The IrAero Company (Irkutsk) told TASS that full-fledged social and economic development of the Arctic territories in Siberia and the Far East includes as its integral part a program for the reconstruction and support of airport network. "Poor infrastructure is the main obstacle for air transportation in the Arctic and in the North," the company explained to TASS.

Experts say that federal subsidies for local passenger flights could boost aviation in the Arctic. Presently, such subsidies are paid by regional or even municipal budgets. In late 2019 - early 2020, this situation was discussed at the federal level, however, due to the current coronavirus pandemic the issue has taken a back seat.

"Since for most locals there is no alternative to air communication, the only way to make trips affordable is to apply federal subsidies for such routes," Kamchatka Region’s Acting Governor Vladimir Solodov told TASS.

The region has submitted its proposals to the federal transport authority, he added. Yakutia hopes for support in this issue and believes that a relevant program will be drafted within the current year.

Role of businesses

According to Director of the Aviaport aviation agency Oleg Panteleyev, as soon as businesses see that aviation is economically effective, they will set up the necessary infrastructure in the northern regions.

"We should look realistically at this situation — development of the Arctic region first of all depends on effectiveness of natural resources exploitation, including that of oil and gas fields," Panteleyev told TASS. "<…> Whenever a natural resources project begins in the Arctic region, the aviation will be there. Clearly, economic feasibility is the criteria that will determine the developmnt of air transport in the region."

Siberian regions expect that the current investment facilities in the Arctic will boost air transport. Thus, a few investment projects for natural resources exploitation are due in the Krasnoyarsk Region’s Arctic zone: the Syradasay coal deposit; oil loading from the Payakha fields; as well as the Chaika coal terminal, which includes construction of transport infrastructure facilities.