The relations between Russia and the Ukraine are deteriorating further, becoming increasingly sinister. Now, a new chapter in the conflict has been opened, with the Ukrainian state-run Antonov Group announcing a flight ban on the entire Russia-registered AN-124 fleet for all operations outside their national territory. In addition, the Kiev-based aircraft maker said it would cancel cooperation deals agreed between the Russian aviation companies and the Antonov Group.
The words of Antonov President Alexander Kotsuba weigh heavy: By addressing Russian aviation companies directly during a meeting in Kiev, Ukraine he just said: “We are currently at the stage of
divorce. By the end of the year we will cancel all joint projects between Antonov and Russian firms.”
Moscow Countermeasures are expected
Quite a dramatic step that will foreseeably intensify the conflict between both nations, which will more than likely be answered by Moscow countermeasures and other repercussions.
Should Antonov Chief Kotsuba stick to his position, Volga-Dnepr’s 12 unit fleet of AN-124 “Ruslan” freighters would be barred from international service. Surely, an extremely bitter pill and an enormous blow not only for Russia’s largest cargo capacity provider but for the country’s transport sector in general.
Kotsuba’s point: AN-124 developer Antonov is the legal owner of the construction plans and license holder of most of its components. Therefore, the manufacturer can demand that Antonov’s own qualified staff, at the Kiev facilities, perform all technical checks and maintenance, as prescribed by international requirements and safety regulations. Having said that, Kotsuba blamed the Russians for taking steps to circumvent these binding technical services by transferring maintenance to Russian companies, particularly to Ilyushin. The manager pointed out that he will involve IATA, ICAO and national regulators to forbid Russian AN-124, equipped with unlicensed instruments and parts, to operate internationally should they continue breaching maintenance and safety standards by installing illegally produced components during mandatory checks.
Volga-Dnper has not responded to these allegations so far.
Ruslan-Salis in trouble
NATO members and EU countries will be severely hit by the upcoming split between Antonov and Volga-Dnepr. Due to the lack of their own uplift capacity they are frequently utilizing AN-124s operated by both Volga-Dnepr and Antonov to supply humanitarian aid to hot-spots around the world and support their rapid intervention forces with needed material in conflict zones like Afghanistan, the Congo or the Horn of Africa to name just a few.
Announcement was held back
However, Antonov’s intentions don't really come as a big surprise to NATO and the EU because some months ago, the Ukrainians confidentially informed both contractual partners that they intended to end collaboration with Volga-Dnepr within the framework of Ruslan-Salis; CargoForwarder Global has learned from reliable sources. But this has been withheld by the EU and NATO for incomprehensible reasons. Maybe because they would have to openly admit that their own Airbus A400M (military) project that was supposed to replace the AN-124s (one day) making Ruslan-Salis redundant, became a sheer disaster with almost none of the A400M ordered by EU member states are flying to date.
Splitting up Ruslan-Salis?
So how will NATO and EU react to Antonov’s announcement to end any cooperation with Russian airlines? Hard to say, but the most likely solution is that Ruslan-Salis will be divided into two independent companies, signing separate transport contracts with Ukraine’s Antonov Airlines and Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Group. This way, future uplift capacity is guaranteed, with Leipzig remaining the base of the AN-124 fleet which operates on behalf of NATO and EU member states. However, this solution will only work if Antonov steps back from the announced ban or Volga-Dnepr agrees to use the Ukrainian aircraft developer’s facilities in Kiev for major technical checks and overhauls of their fleet.
NATO and the EU still have some convincing work to do!
Please stay tuned!
Heiner Siegmund / Michael Taweel