Staunton, December 27 – The number of civilian airfields in the Russian Federation has fallen from 1450 in 1991 to 228 now, a decline that means the largest country in the world now has fewer airports than the US state of Alaska (which has 282) and a particular disaster for a country that relies on air travel because of the lack of a comprehensive highway system.
In the current issue of Sovershenno Sokretno, Anatoly Zhurin says that as a result, “about 70 percent of the territory of the country doesn’t have sufficient access to aviation.” That means that some 20 million people are cut off entirely or forced to travel to neighboring areas via Moscow (sovsekretno.ru/articles/id/5809/).
The situation has become especially dire in the Far North and Far Est, he continues, precisely where air routes should be developed because creating them is far less expensive than building highways over the enormous distances in those places. And that means the absence of aviation routes has a negative impact on “the preservation of the integrity of the country.”
The situation began to deteriorate in the 1990s, Zhurin says, when the government decided that “the invisible hand” of the market would solve all problems and exited from the sector almost entirely, leading to the rapid closing of airports and routes and making the restoration of both now extremely expensive.
Domestic air travel by Russians collapsed and only last year reached the same level it was in 1991, 88.5 million people.
Airport operators attempted to put pressure on the government by forming their own association, but the government did not view that body as something it could or would cooperate with. And things have continued to deteriorate. One needn’t reinvent the wheel but create institutions like those which exist in all modern countries. So far, however, Moscow hasn’t.
And there must be a recognition that the private sector on its own cannot solve the problem. It doesn’t in other countries, Zhurin says, and it is a mistake to think that it can in Russia given the country’s need to ensure that people can move easily from one place to another for education, health care, business and national security.