It was one of my many dreams buried deep in a drawer and finally last summer that drawer has been opened.
The occasion was my decision of attending the MAKS (Russian Air Show already depicted in a dedicated report).
But since I am particularly fond of civil aviation my curiosity to see what happens in the Russian airports was great.
Unfortunately I got there a little too late, globalization has also reached the Soviet Union and Boeing and Airbus dominate leaving less room for local products which are as fascinating as nowadays very difficult to see on our airports.
For the logistics of the trip, contrary to my habits, I decided to travel with a group using the services of an English tour operator specialized in spotting trips who however relies on Olga, an energetic and resolute local guide who has stopped by several years to accompany tourists to the Kremlin instead of devoting herself to arrange visits for groups of spotters from around the world.
Thanks to her contacts was thus possible to have a privileged access to the ramps of the Moscow airports without fear of being arrested by the KGB and end up at the Lubyanka.
Although I cannot complain about the organization of the visits I have to say that, if there will be a next time, I will go to Moscow by myself because I have noticed, with great pleasure, that stay along a runway to photograph aircraft is not only tolerated by the authorities but even grown-up by local enthusiasts who spend hours on sunny summer days together with families watching the comings and goings of the jet as it happens around every airport in the western world.
Another pleasant surprise came from the weather, just one bad day in the eight I spent on Soviet territory, with real summer temperatures and clear skies.
The only difficulty in organizing a trip “do-it-yourself” is the one associated with the language (since there only a few speak a decent English) and with the interpretation of everything which is written in Cyrillic which of course always requires a supplemental brain activity.
And then you have to take into account not only the difficulty of transfers but the time needed requiring long trips in over-crowded trains and subways. Nowadays you can also rent a car, but undisciplined and chaotic traffic and road signs in Cyrillic only advise against this venture.
There are three major airports in Moscow:
Located 27 km north of the capital, newly renovated with a modern terminal has handled in 2010 nearly 20 million passengers, however, is perhaps the least interesting of the three as it is the main base of Aeroflot which nowadays flies almost exclusively Airbuses. It 'also used by almost all major European airlines so therefore can become a bit boring for the spotter in search of rarities. However, it is still operating the old terminal to the north of the runways, although sparsely used only by a few low-cost and charter carrier including Avianova and Nordstar.
Just outside the airport perimeter is proudly displayed a very well-preserved Il-18. The same can not be said about the collection of the old Aeroflot planes parked in the "backyard" of the Aeronautical Engineer Institute Novohatskoy just across the perimeter road.
Diametrically opposite to the center of Moscow from SVO but much more distant (42 km) and dedicated to domestic flights since its opening in 1965, starting as recently as 1992 it has become international thanks to the boom of travels abroad towards the holiday resorts in the Mediterranean in summer and for skiing in the Alps in winter of the Moscovites DME has stolen the leadership of Sheremetyevo surpassing the target of 22.5 million passengers in 2010.
Many international carriers have now chosen DME as their Moscow port of call. From the spotting point of view traffic is much more interesting here even though a good portion of the movements is covered by two carriers which in recent years experienced an exponential growth: S7 Airlines (with the characteristic apple green livery) and Transaero which has put together a sizeable charter fleet that also includes several 747s.
Fortunately there are still domestic operators who utilize Soviet industry products including Tu 134, Tu 154, Yak 40 and 42 and Il-62. Regrettably the days of the first Soviet wide-body, the Il-86 are now over. Grounded permanently at the end of 2010 is however present in several examples on the field along with many other Tupolev abandoned in the grass between the two runways south of the main apron. They are not going last long because when I visited the torches were already at work dissecteing a poor 154.
With a traffic much more modest but growing (almost 10 million in 2010) can rightly be considered the third busiest airport of the capital even if it is historically the oldest of the three having been opened in 1941.
Located 27 km south-west along the M3 motorway is also undergoing a major restructuring. Here the dominant carrier is UTair that, with a fleet of over 150 aircraft (Western and Soviet mix), provides national and international connections. At VKO are also operating many smaller airlines, lots of corporate and executive operators and is based the government airline Rossiya with all the VIP transport fleet (unfortunately out-of-limits to photographers).
The western side of the airport is home to the VARZ400 (Aircraft Repair Plant 400), a large maintenance workshop specialized in the Soviet types; in the dusty hangars and on the aprons within these premises some "gems" interesting for enthusiasts can often be seen.
In conclusion then, as you can see from the pictures, it was a very successful visit which, if made only a few years ago, would have given even greater satisfaction because unfortunately the real Russian planes are now an endangered breed.