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As the 2014 Winter Olympics kicks off in Sochi, Russia today (Friday 7 February), Passenger Terminal World speaks to Leonid Sergeev, CEO of Basel Aero about Sochi International Airport’s transformation ahead of the games

Left: Leonid Sergeev, CEO of Basel Aero

What work has been carried out at Sochi International ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games?

Basel Aero is among the top three airport holdings in Russia and operates airports in four southern Russian cities: Krasnodar, Sochi, Gelendzhik and Anapa. The history of the company dates back to 2007 when Basic Element, one of Russia’s largest diversified industrial holdings, acquired the four above mentioned regional airports and established Basel Aero as operator of these airports. That same year, when Russia won the bid to host the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Basel Aero gained momentum to turn a Soviet-style Sochi Airport into one-of-a kind modern facility.

Sochi International Airport was under intense pressure to be ready to serve up to 3,800 passengers during peak hours during the games. With this in mind we had to make sure we were prepared and were able to overcome any challenges that were presented.

Left: Sochi Airport’s International Terminal

As part of this preparation and wider development plans at the airport, in 2010 Sochi opened its new International Terminal to passengers. The building of this new facility resembles a futuristic spacecraft with a façade made of solid glass that adds airiness, fineness and cohesion.

We’ve invested over US$450m in the development of the airport so now it boasts 19 state-of-the-art check-in counters, 10 self-service check-in terminals and mobile check-in desks where passengers can print out their boarding passes using smartphones. A new 450m long boarding gallery with 10 telebridges was also installed. For an airport of this size, three or five telebridges would be enough but we took into account the tight flight schedule we will face during the games and increased the number of telebridges to 10.

We also invested in a new integrated security system that monitors security conditions 24/7, proactively spots suspicious situations and reacts in a timely manner. The security system comprises over 550 high-resolution surveillance cameras, a network of checkpoints for the airport’s staff featuring biometric access control systems with fingerprint and 3D-face models for restricted areas, and a recognition system for emergency situations. All information goes to the operations control centre where it is analysed and thoroughly studied.

On top of that, the airport has a three-level baggage check system supplied by Rapiscan, which has a handling capacity up to 7,000 units per hour.

Aside from major development projects, how has Sochi prepared for the games?

We have built additional infrastructure, including a temporary terminal for athletes, a cargo terminal and a new VIP Terminal. In terms of human resources, we have a 1,000-strong core team and an additional 807 outsourced people who will join Basel Aero during the event.

In case of adverse weather conditions, we have reserve airports in Krasnodar and Anapa, around 300 miles away from Sochi, which will be ready to serve Olympics-bound aircraft if needed.

We are constantly looking to improve all our systems, processes and people. For example, we have optimised the time it takes for passengers to check-in. Now it takes only 45 seconds to check-in an economy class passenger and waiting time for check-in does not exceed 15 minutes. We closely monitor daily operations and see that this timing is adhered to in 95% of the cases.

Left: The VIP Terminal, which officially opened to passengers on 10 December 2013

Tell us more about the new VIP terminal at Sochi.

The VIP Terminal is a 4,000m² facility with a handling capacity of 85 passengers per hour. It will serve state leaders, official delegations and business aviation passengers. We tested the terminal during the International Investment Forum Sochi-2013 in late September 2013 when it was attended by a number of business delegates.

The terminal’s VIP lounge boasts five conference rooms and a workroom, equipped with desktops connected to the internet and a printer. It also has a 56-seat common area with catering service. All pre-flight procedures are available in the terminal, including check-in and security control. The VIP Terminal also comprises a parking lot with 36 parking spaces, a dedicated entrance/exit road and a site for motorcades.

What developments have been undertaken to meet the needs of the Winter Paralympic Games?

Basel Aero has invested US$1m (£612,000) in introducing permanent accessibility improvements for passengers with reduced mobility and other disabilities.

As part of the navigation package for the blind, the airport is equipped with tactile footpaths throughout the building. Three mnemonic schemes featuring Braille letters are installed near the entrance and inside the terminal. Disabled passengers can familiarise themselves with the airport facilities using these schemes.

We have also introduced a preferential queue and a dedicated security checkpoint for passengers with disabilities, and the personnel manning the checkpoint have undergone disability awareness training.

In addition we have introduced paramedics who will help passengers with special needs during check-in, security checks and transfer from the departure lounge to an aircraft.

How has the airport improved customer service levels?

In mid-October we established a joint venture with the Swiss-based leading travel retailer Nuance. The concession runs for 15 years until 2028, and will consist of a major retail development programme creating a world-class shopping experience at each Basel Aero airport, including Sochi. By the start of the games we will have introduced a total of 4,600m² of retail space showcasing several dozens of duty free stores.

Apart from retail, the airport has a children’s playground in the courtyard, equipped with entertainment facilities and a games room in the business lounge. Free wi-fi is also available to passengers throughout the terminal.

During the games the airport will turn into a multi-lingual melting pot. In order to properly serve passengers all over the world, over 500 of Basel Aero’s staff has passed English courses.

What is the main challenge faced by Sochi Airport?

The main challenge that we face on a daily basis is establishing smooth coordination between the airport’s services, partners and government bodies. Aviation is one of the most strictly regulated industries in Russia because of security issues. It means we have to adhere not only to the internal documents and procedures but also to the requirements of security services and other government watchdogs.

However, the best way to solve any problem is to split it into several independent components. That is what we did with regards to airport operations. We have divided them into four sectors according to client groups: regular passengers, athletes, business community using private aviation and government officials.

Then we tested all the sectors. The summer and winter tourist seasons were an ideal time to test the airport’s work with regular passengers. Test competitions prior to the games, which covered all the winter sports, gave us tremendous feedback on what we should improve in serving athletes, both Olympians and Paralympians. And the International Investment Forum in September helped us to adjust our services tailored for business aviation. Lastly, by serving state leaders and government officials regularly visiting Sochi, Basel Aero gained experience for serving top guests.

We have also established an Olympic Airport Control Centre, a closed-loop system that integrates operations in Sochi, Krasnodar and Anapa airports. The information will be available to these airports and state bodies in a real-time mode.

Left: Sochi Airport is currently flamboyantly ‘dressed’ for the Winter Olympic Games, including banners featuring Sochi 2014 Olympic branding with Russia’s traditional patchwork patterns

How does the airport link with the Winter Games sites?

The upcoming Winter Olympic Games are considered one of the most compact in history because the coastal and mountainous competition venues are located just 48km from each other. Sochi Airport, in its turn, is only 7km from the Olympic Park in the coastal area. The airport is linked to the completion venues via a high-speed train running every 15 minutes. It takes about 25 minutes to get to the coastal sites and around an hour to reach Krasnaya Polyana, where mountainous venues are located.

What will happen after the games – will there still be enough passengers to fill the airport?

It is wrong to think that airport will have low passenger traffic after the games. Sochi has always been an attractive tourist destination. In winter it is a ski resort, in summer it is a nationwide seaside resort. The city attracts 4.5 million tourists every year. Though some of them go to Sochi by car from the neighbouring regions, the others come from various Russian regions, so the airport will always be in demand.

On top of that, the coming years will bring a lot of international sports events to Sochi. The city will host an annual Formula 1 Grand Prix race, starting from October 2014, and in 2018 a stadium in the Olympic Park will be one of the arenas of the FIFA World Cup.

We expect that the airport’s annual passenger traffic will reach four million by 2019 while cargo traffic will increase by 50%. Over the ten months up until October 2013, we served 2.1 million passengers and expect much higher figures next year.

February 7, 2014

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Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for our magazines and websites. Away from the office, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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