Aeroflot raps trouble faced by crews to get visas

AEROFLOT'S first Hongkong general manager has criticised the extraordinary lengths to which Russian flight crews must go in order to get visas for the territory.

Pilots and cabin attendants must individually apply for multiple entry visas to the British embassy in Moscow because Russia has no embassy in the territory and the UK no high commission.

Once they get the green light from immigration, the application goes to the Foreign Office in London and then back to Moscow.

The whole process takes six to eight weeks.

To make matters worse, they can only obtain three-month multiple entry visas for Hongkong, whereas they can get year-long visas to countries such as Japan and the UK.

Aeroflot has made a formal request to the British embassy in Moscow asking that the system be reviewed.

Mr Vassili Tkachenko, the first Aeroflot senior executive ever assigned to Hongkong, said he hoped that the Hongkong Immigration and Civil Aviation departments would provide visas to his staff on the basis of crew lists, in accordance with standard international practice.

''We are not asking for anything more than normal relations,'' he said. ''The procedure could be much more simple.

''We waste so much time in paperwork applying from scratch each time a member of staff needs a new visa.'' The three-person Russian management team at Aeroflot's new Hongkong office in Ice House Street, which opened last month, has not encountered such problems.

Each has been granted Hongkong residency and year-long visas for themselves and their families, with no trouble.

Aeroflot inaugurated its first direct weekly Hongkong-Moscow flight in August. A second flight was added in November.

The airline has rights to fly in and out of Hongkong five times a week, but will not take up its full quota until demand from passengers and freight forwarders warrants.

Aeroflot flies a new A310 aircraft leased from Airbus Industrie on its Asia-Pacific flights.

The average passenger load on the 183-seater planes on the Hongkong route has been 102.

The average cargo load has been five tonnes, a figure Aeroflot is quite happy with, given the short time it has been operating the route.

Aeroflot's landing rights in Hongkong were given at the same time that Cathay Pacific was granted flying rights over Russia.

Aeroflot wants to launch an additional Hongkong-Sydney-Melbourne-Hongkong-Moscow weekly service this summer, and to start a second weekly service to Australia via either Bangkok or Singapore soon.

Mr Tkachenko said he hoped to introduce a chartered cargo service to Hongkong soon and that permission was sought from the authorities.