EXCLUSIVE - Old An-124s to be Rejuvenated in LEJ

The aging fleet of mighty Antonov 124 freighters will be modernized at Leipzig/Halle Airport. The managers of action behind the scenes are in the process of setting up a tripartite alliance to push the project forward.

Lining up for getting second life – An-124 at Leipzig Airport / source: LEJ Airport
Lining up for getting second life – An-124 at Leipzig Airport / source: LEJ Airport

Alexey Isaikin, the influential President of the Volga-Dnepr Group, waited until the parliamentary evening held in Berlin a couple of days ago had almost ended. Then he drew the attention to the last point standing on his agenda – the outlook for his enterprise. “We intend to rejuvenate the An-124 fleet in Leipzig,” he told the stunned politicians and dignitaries present at the event. Isaikin went on to say that Volga-Dnepr is pushing plans speedily forward in order to technically update the big freighters, with Airbus becoming a close partner, or better said, their East German subsidiary Elbe Flugzeugwerke.The motto of the Dresden-based passenger-to-freighter conversion specialist being: ‘We provide a second life to aircraft’.

Alexey Isaikin / source: HS
Alexey Isaikin / source: HS

The big question is why Volga prefers joining forces with Elbe instead of having manufacturer Aviastar-SP accomplishing the modernization job in Ulyanovsk where the Antonovs were originally assembled. Or alternatively contracting another capable Russian provider of aircraft maintenance, overhaul, and repair to have the job done, especially since wages are lower in Russia compared to Germany.


The answer to this is quite easy: because the flight decks of the AN’s need to be equipped with modern western technology, by predominantly exchanging outdated mechanical control systems and fitting in advanced electronic devices instead. This way, the lifespan of the giant freighters could be extended by some additional fifteen to twenty years. The spending wouldn’t be of any risk since demand for airlifting outsized and heavy items is constantly increasing.


Elbe Flugzeugwerke seems to be an ideal partner because their engineers and technicians are experts in overhauling or modernizing older aircraft. And there is another aspect that should not be underestimated: The state of Saxony which both Dresden and Leipzig belong to is strongly supporting closer ties between the local aviation industry and Russian firms. The doors they opened up for DHL Express about ten years ago to abandon night flight restricted Brussels and set up a gateway in Leipzig they similarly  wide open now for enabling Volga and Elbe to join forces.


EADS Elbe Flugzeugwerke sounds like an ideal partner for Volga-Dnepr

Their engineers and technicians are experts in rejuvenating aircraft mostly gained from the many passenger-to-freighter conversion programs they perform in Dresden. This explains why Volga-Dnepr representatives are currently negotiating details of a future pact with Elbe executives behind the scenes.

Ildar Ilyasov / source: HS
Ildar Ilyasov / source: HS

This multifaceted snapshot of activities is basically confirmed by Ildar Iliyasov, the Managing Director of Volga-Dnepr Technics. He even speaks of a tripartite project intended to be set up by Russian Volga-Dnepr, German EADS Elbe, and Ukrainian Antonov Design Bureau. If realized the pact could constitute something like phase II of the Leipzig-based Ruslan Salis GmbH. The name refers to a joint venture set up 2005 by Volga-Dnepr and Antonov Design Bureau at Leipzig airport to provide airlift capacity to the EU and most NATO members when urgently needed for transporting equipment to political or military hot spots worldwide.


When asked by CargoForwarder Global, manager Iliyasov said that Volga’s hangar capacity at LEJ would be doubled once an agreement has been reached to technically upgrade the An-124s. The future building would provide enough space to accommodate two of the big freighters at the same time in the hall. He also confirmed plans to temporarily shift experts from Dresden’s Elbe Flugzeugwerke to 120 kilometer distant Leipzig in order to have them support the modernization program.


Meanwhile, the entire program has become quite pressing because the Antonovs don’t get any younger. So the alternative is either completely modernizing them or taking them out of service during the next three to five years. The latter is no real option since demand for transporting heavy and large shipments is constantly increasing.
 
Heiner Siegmund