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1 Jul, 2010 07:57

Moscow airport accuses city of doing crooked business

The head of the Sheremetyevo International Airport has sparked a scandal after stating in his blog that the Moscow government is putting leverage on its business to give an advantage to the competing Vnukovo Airport.

At the core of the problem is a bridge, which is part of the motorway connecting Moscow and St. Petersburg. The government has recently launched a renovation of the structure and limited traffic through it.

The bridge in question happens to be right next to a turn from Moscow to Sheremetyevo, and the work has resulted in constant traffic jams, blocking passengers from accessing the airport.

In his personal blog, Sheremetyevo Director Mikhail Vasilenko claims that the renovation project was deliberately timed to coincide with the summer air traffic peak and benefits Vnukovo airport, in which the Moscow government owns a 75 per cent stake. He also said Sheremetyevo management had not been made aware of the emerging transportation problem.

“The airport would never have agreed to limit the traffic during the summer. Sheremetyevo serves 70,000 people a day!” Vasilenko wrote.

He also suggested that the move, which he describes an attack on Sheremetyevo, gives an unfair advantage to Vnukovo, which is about to open a new terminal. The terminal will boost its capacity by 20 million passengers annually.

The airport official called on Mayor Yury Luzhkov to comment on the accusations and said he will insist on a high-profile probe into the situation, and probably a criminal investigation over possible corruption in the city government.

Moscow civil engineering officials deny allegations and say the bridge needs urgent renovation due to corrosion of its metal structure elements.

The conflict has drawn the attention of the Russian government. On Thursday, Prime Minister Putin ordered a probe, saying a solution is necessary to deal with the traffic jams near Sheremetyevo.

Following Putin’s order to sort out the situation, two extra lanes were opened on the road link. However, the decision added another month to the bridge-repair period, which was supposed to end in October. The situation also seems not to be improving, as Muscovites head off to the countryside for the weekend – it still takes five hours by car to get to the airport from the city center.

Yury Luzhkov, who has served as Moscow mayor since 1992, has been involved in several public scandals recently. Critics accuse the senior official of various misdoings, including putting leverage on Moscow courts considering defamation lawsuits involving him, the oppression of different minority group rights activists, and corruption.