A Domodedovo Airlines (E3) Il-96-300 flight was sabotaged today at Krasnoyark (KJA) at 8:15 am (local time).
But this is not a story of an attempted hijacking or a bomb threat by radicals. It is the story of something even more sinister.
Today was the inaugural flight by Domodedovo Airlines on the Domedodovo (DME) - KJA route. KJA is one of those airports in Russia which is fiercely protected from competition by the airport's owner, KrasAir (7B), and the local regional government; so much so that Aeroflot, the country's largest airline, does not fly into the airport because the local authorities refused to give it the necessary licences.
The inbound KJA flight was apparently without incident, obviously with a small media contingent on board. The return flight to DME had 53 passengers booked, including the airline's Deputy Director-General, Alexander Russ.
Apparently the ground handling (also owned by 7B) at KJA refused to service the aircraft for over an hour by now driving the stairs to the aircraft. The ground handling department then advised the passengers on board the E3 flight that the flight (which was due to depart at 10:40am) was delayed for "several" hours, and then had been cancelled. 7B then organised a "special" charter flight to take the passengers back to DME. Of course, this charter flight was organised by 7B and on 7B aircraft. Also, 7B at no time advised passengers as to what was the cause of the delay.
Quite obviously, KrasAir used the inaugural flight by a new competitor to make out that E3 is unreliable and that KrasAir is the "only choice" on the route for passengers who want to leave on schedule.
Russ is totally pissed off about this incident, and is threatening to take 7B to court to get the latter's licence on the DME-KJA route revoked for anti-competitive behaviour. Maybe court action would not be needed due to E3 operating from the airport which is in turned owned by E3's "owners"; East Line (P7), and they could simply revoke the licences for 7B (although I guess 7B would then threaten legal action also).
Before any court action is taken, Russ will be meeting with the chief of 7B, Boris Abramovich, to try and reach a resolution to the anti-competitive behaviour by 7B at KJA, but knowing what the stunts KrasAir have pulled in the past, and still seem to be doing, I feel that court action might be the only way this will be resolved.
Why has 7B done this? It is simple. They want to protect their monopoly. KJA-DME is the cashcow route for the airline, and they currently charge some 6,000 Rb. (approx US$190) for a one-way ticket. For the first week of operations, E3 is offering a special one-way fare of 3,120 Rb. (approx US$100), which will later rise to between 4,000-4,500 Rb. (US$125-$140). Still some 1,500 Rb. (US$50) below the tariffs charged by 7B.
This type of anti-competitive behaviour by 7B is despicable. Whilst I can understand them not wanting to give up their cashcow route to other airlines (with SU soon to join E3, but from SVO), they should have a suitable business plan in place to allow for competition on flights. I am not aware of any other major airport in Russia, in which the owners of that airport restrict access to competition. KrasAir will soon be getting a number of MD-80s (from Germania), so they had better get their act together before then, because they won't be cheap to lease and operate.
And who said the airline industry in Russia was without scandal which makes the airlines in other countries elligible for some type of "Mother Teresa" award?