Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Politics Spell Divorce for Long Time Heavy Lift Air Freight Partners

International Tensions Forces Decade Long Cooperation to End
Shipping News Feature
RUSSIA – UKRAINE – UK – The big heavy lift news of the week is that it seems politics has finally sounded the death knell for a partnership which has appeared successful for several years, as Russian air freight carrier Volga-Dnepr has dissolved its Ruslan UK operation after a decade together with Ukrainian partner Antonov. The two merged their fleets of An−124−100 aircraft under the Ruslan banner but will now return to operating as separate entities.

A statement from Antonov thanked Volga−Dnepr Airlines ‘for contributing to this partnership, which has served the global ‘Ruslan’ customer base so efficiently for the past ten years’. Somewhat confusingly the AN124 aircraft is also known as the Ruslan, and Antonov intends to continue operating from the UK when the partnership ends on 31 December 2016 and will also continue its collaboration with Volga-Dnepr as far as the technical aspects of airworthiness and flight safety support of that company’s AN-124 fleet are concerned.

The break up seems to be as a result of the Ukrainian company’s policy to avoid working with Russian enterprises, and the airline and aircraft manufacturing group’s latest designs, the AN-132D and AN-178, do not incorporate any Russian sourced parts, unlike the current situation with the AN-124s. As Antonov is the patent and Type Certificate holder for the entire AN range, it is the only operation allowed to alter or undertake serious work on the aircraft, thereby effectively grounding any rival operators using its planes.

Volga-Dnepr will therefore continue to work with the Ukrainian company which will provide technical support and undertake flight safety maintenance for its fleet of AN-124s. Antonov meantime plans to relaunch a series of its giant AN-225 aircraft next year in cooperation with the state run Aerospace Industry Corporation of China (AICC) and the UK operation will be Dreamlifts Ltd. (trading as Antonov Airlines) which the company says will be run by ‘an international group of well−known experts from the outsize and heavyweight cargo industry with decades of experience between them.’

For its part Volga-Dnepr says that, as the majority shareholder in the Ruslan operation, it has the full capability to continue to support all existing customer contractual obligations something Dennis Gliznoutsa, Vice President, Development & Special Projects at Volga-Dnepr was keen to emphasise saying:

”Volga-Dnepr is a private group of companies and a commercial enterprise that is proud to support major customers in industries across the globe. We are free to take commercial decisions that are in the best interests of our group and our customers and this represents a new and exciting chapter for Volga-Dnepr Group as we continue to build upon the reputation we have earned for service quality and reliability over more than 26 years.

“We have the advantage of the experience we gained from the end of our An-124 joint venture with HeavyLift Cargo Airlines in 2001, and the subsequent growth of our outsize and heavyweight cargo business in the international market. We emerged from that JV stronger and now, 15 years later, we will do so again. We now have an even more diverse and capable product offering for our customers under our ‘Cargo Supermarket’ concept, which combines our growing An-124, IL-76TD-90VD, Boeing 747 and 737 freighter fleet and logistics services.

”We know our customers highly value the capability of our fleet and the outstanding expertise of our people and they have confidence in our group of companies as a unique provider of transportation and logistics solutions that are pivotal to the success of projects, supply chains and customers all over the world. We wish to publicly thank Antonov Airlines for their partnership over the past decade and we will continue to collaborate in regards to the technical aspects of our An-124 fleet.”

An interesting footnote to this story is that of the future of the possibility of the AN-225 being revived. The model, also known as the ‘Mryia’ was originally designed to support the Soviet space programme. Two aircraft were scheduled for construction and the one completed (in 1988) is the longest and heaviest aircraft ever built and is still flying complete with its Antonov Ukrainian civil registration. Our photograph shows the other, forlornly sitting in Kiev now stalled by the bad feeling between the two nations involved, this aircraft is to be modernised prior to delivery to China before any new ones are to be constructed. Antonov has strenuosly denied selling its production rights for the AN-225 to the Chinese saying any produced will be under licence.