There’s a new Customs restriction in place, reported at bothULLI/St Petersburg and UUWW/Moscow Vnukovo airports. The standard block of text doing the rounds is as follows:

STARTING FROM 19/09/2018, IT WILL NOT BE POSSIBLE TO CHANGE THE ROUTE IN CUSTOMS DECLARATION FOR THE DOMESTIC LEG (E.G. IF THE NEXT POINT AFTER ULLI IS LOWW, IT WILL NOT BE POSSIBLE TO CHANGE IT FOR UUWW; IF THE NEXT POINT AFTER ULLI IS UUWW, IT WILL NOT BE POSSIBLE TO CHANGE IT TO URSS). DUE TO CUSTOMS CONTROL RESTRICTIONS WE REMIND YOU REGARDING PASSENGER AVIATION CABOTAGE ON THE EACU TERRITORY.

There are two important points here:

  1. Once you have completed the customs declaration and it was for an international destination from ULLI/UUWW, you can’t change it to a domestic one; also if there was domestic destination after ULLI/UUWW you can’t change it to a different domestic airport; but changing the destination to a non-Russian airport is still allowed (i.e. LSZH instead of URSS).
  2. ‘EACU Territory’ means the Euroasian Customs Union countries – that’s Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan. Watch out if you’re planning on flying between ULLI and any these other countries, as Customs may now consider it to be a domestic flight!

Local handlers have confirmed these new restrictions have been brought in to try to combat abuse of cabotage rules by some operators.

Russian cabotage rules are complicated. Their AIP GEN 1.6.2.4 attempts to define it, in language typical of AIPs the world over, as follows:

Foreign air transport enterprises, international operating agencies and foreign individual enterprises have no right to take passengers, baggage, cargo and mail aboard on the territory of the Russian Federation for air transportation within the territory of the Russian Federation without permit from the Federal Air Transport Agency issued in accordance with procedure established by the Government of the Russian Federation.

THE BASIC RULE

So the wording above basically translates to a fairly standard definition of cabotage which we’re probably all familiar with: foreign aircraft are not allowed to carry passengers domestically inside our country. Fair enough.

RULE BEND #1

In reality, the basic rule is not strictly enforced. The unofficial position of the Russian Customs Service is that a single domestic flight will be permitted as long as it’s part of an international roundtrip of the same passengers.

RULE BEND #2

We checked with the authorities, and in practice, the whole “as long as it’s part of an international trip” thing doesn’t actually have to be strictly followed either. Domestic flights with passengers onboard are permitted as long as those passengers either fly in to Russia on that aircraft, or fly out of Russia on that aircraft.

For example, both of the following trips would be allowed (as long as the passengers onboard are the same actual people):

LSZH-UUWW (0 pax)
UUWW-URSS (2 pax)
URSS-LSZH (2 pax)

LSZH-UUWW (2 pax)
UUWW-URSS (2 pax)
URSS-LSZH (0 pax)

RULE BEND #3

Not content with the significant amount of rule-bendery already available, there are plenty of reports out there where none of the above is adhered to whatsoever – where operators do multiple domestic legs, or change the passengers onboard on different legs, or declare charter flights as private to avoid the cabotage rules altogether. Much seems to depend on which particular airports you’re flying to/from, who your handler is, who your VIP on board is, and who makes the phone calls behind the scenes!

As Derek A. Bloom says in his article on ‘Avoiding the Substantial Legal Risks Involved in Grey Cabotage Flights in Russia’ – “For the last several years, it is an open secret that there are a very substantial number of illegal cabotage flights in Russia of chartered corporate aircraft. False customs filings are regularly made indicating that foreign-registered aircraft are being flown in Russia for private, and not for commercial purposes, and even that the owner of the aircraft is actually on board the aircraft when he is not.”

But with the new rules imposed this week, the authorities seem to be fighting back. Currently, we only have information that this is being applied at ULLI and UUWW, but if you know of any other locations, or have any other information, please let us know!

Further reading