By GUY CHAZAN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
MOSCOW -- Russian officials are scrambling to soften the impact of a European ban on noisy airplanes that threatens to hammer the country's package-holiday industry.
Starting April 1, the aging Russian airliners that ferry most flights chartered by package-holiday operators won't be allowed to land at airports in Western Europe. A European Union ban on noisy planes could affect more than half the estimated 300,000 Russian tourists expected in Spain alone this year, according to Spanish tourist officials. The Russian Association of Tourist Agencies says total passenger traffic will fall by 8%, and it claims Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece could lose a total of $1 billion (1.15 billion euros) a year in revenue from Russian tourists.
Aeroflot, the national carrier, says it won't be affected because it uses Boeing and Airbus planes and modernized Tupolev 154s on most of its European routes. But the EU measure will ban planes such as the Ilyushin 86 and the Tupolev 134 that are used by smaller charter companies.
Russia's older aircraft weigh in at 100 decibels, compared with about 94 for the current generation of Boeings. European environmentalists have long called for a ban on the thunderous Russian models.
Safety fears have also grown: There were twice as many crashes involving Russian-built airliners in 2001 as in 2000, according to the European Commission.
Following last Tuesday's crash of an Iran Air Tours' Tu-154 in western Iran with the loss of all 119 people on board, Iran's transport minister said Tehran will be removing all Russian-manufactured planes from its fleet. (See related article.)
Russia has launched a diplomatic offensive against the EU's directive, sending delegations to Brussels and other European capitals to seek exemptions for certain planes. Meanwhile Russian transport officials have threatened to retaliate, reducing the number of European flights that are permitted to fly over and into Russia if the ban is implemented.
The EU expresses hope that a compromise can be reached. Constantinos Vardakis, a European Commission spokesman, said Russia could negotiate temporary exemptions with individual EU member states that would allow certain planes to fly to certain airports. In return, Russia would have to provide a timetable for phasing out planes to comply with the new rules. A full repeal of the legislation is "out of the question," he said.
European officials stress that the Russians were given plenty of warning. The directive, based on a 1990 resolution of the International Civil Aviation Organization, was adopted by the EU in 1992; airlines were given 10 years to comply. Some, such as Aeroflot, already do. But smaller airlines without the funds to buy new aircraft say they will be badly hit.
Write to Guy Chazan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated February 18, 2002 12:01 a.m. EST
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