On Wednesday 25NOV20, the Russian company announced the grounding of its 8 Antonov 124s, with 4 additional units currently undergoing maintenance and overhaul. A day after, the Volga-Dnepr Group stressed that it expects the fleet to be airborne again should thorough checks and inspections performed by experts on behalf of regulator Rosaviatia confirming full operability of the Antonovs, after an AN-124 was damaged severely at a recent emergency landing in Novosibirsk.
Does V-D have to write off the kaputski aircraft or is repairing it a realistic option? A final decision on the fate of the AN-124 can only be taken after the regulator files an official report. How long this might take, the V-D Group is unaware of, Chief Commercial Officer Konstantin Vekshin told CargoForwarder Global in an exclusive interview. “We don’t compromise. Safety comes first. Full stop! Our internal policy was, is and continues to be driven by utmost safety,” the manager commented.
V-D hopes to get the aircraft back into operation after repair, depending on the outcome of the inspections. Alternatively, the management considers removing essential parts and keep them in stock for further use.
No job cuts looming
Thus, indicating that he and his management believe in the resurrection of the 8 grounded AN-124s – sooner or later. Taking them out of service is only temporary, provided the findings of the inspectors will permit operating the aircraft again, clearing all safety concerns.
There will be no job cuts following the grounding decision. “We are a team and will have to weather this storm together, leaving no one behind,” he stated.
Referring to the average age of the AN-124 aircraft with most of them manufactured in the 90s of last century, he pointed out that the turbines are aging, requiring regular overhauls and exchange of faulty parts.
However, the license holder (the Ukrainian company Antonov, hs) has so far not been cooperative in providing technical assistance, he regrets. “This behavior does not benefit any side,” Mr. Vekshin regrets. The entire issue should be treated as purely a matter of aviation aimed at providing much needed capacity to the market. Politics should be left out. “The Antonovs are desperately needed to transport PPE, pharmaceuticals including vaccines, heavy and oversized shipments, or to be available as a kind of Noah’s Arch to fly relief goods to regions hit by natural catastrophes. We expect the engine manufacturer to behave professionally and supply us with turbines and the necessary spare parts.” That said, he exclaims: “It might need some time, but I remain optimistic that our ANs will take to the air again.”
The D-18T engines powering all existing AN-124s were designed by former Soviet company Ivchenko Progress and assembled by Motor Sich, a Ukrainian company based in Zaporizhzhia.
Is the “Elephant” still an option?
Whether the Ukrainian license holders have an open ear for such rational appeals and hopes, remains to be seen, but seems to be rather doubtful. Even more so after Antonov Airlines told the media that they have no plans in the drawer to stop their own AN-124 ops despite occasional technical issues.
An alternative to the AN-124, at least in the long run, might be the “Elephant”; a project driven forward by Russian aircraft designers and presented at the last Berlin air show. The aircraft is conceived as a successor to the AN-124, comparable in size and transport capacity.
If constructed, the new jumbo could fill a growing niche in the upper transport segment. Konstantin Vekshin explains: “The AN-124 is not there forever. But the market needs an aircraft that is capable of loading oversized and heavy items of 150 tons or more.” However, he does not know the specifics of the “Elephant’s” current status, he admits.
Five IL 76 keep Volga’s flag flying
Following the grounding of the AN-124 fleet, the V-D management decided to rely on the services of the 5 IL 76 TD belonging to Volga-Dnepr Airlines’ fleet, while simultaneously keeping their fingers crossed for a revival of their AN-124 workhorses. “The Ilyushin freighters are modern and neat aircraft which mitigate the economic damages caused by the grounding of the Antonovs to a certain degree,” he stated. However, some contracts with clients needed to be suspended.
Touching financial issues, he said that 2020 had been a very prosperous year in terms of tonnage and turnover so far, overshadowed, however, by the Novosibirsk AN-124 crash and the fleet grounding decision thereafter. “Our total capacity offered to the market was sold out, including the AN-124s.”
No changes to supermarket concept
He also emphasizes the fact that there will be no changes to the supermarket strategy, despite the absence of the Antonovs. The group has a large variety of freighters, reaching from small B737-400 P2Fs operated by Atran Airlines and CargoLogic Germany, to large units such as the B777F and B747-8F belonging to linehaul carrier AirBridgeCargo. “This allows us to cover most transport orders and continue to offer customers tailored capacity for their air freight shipments, resembling the variety of products displayed in supermarkets.”
AMTES closes hangar deal with DHL
To adjust infrastructure and demand, the hangar of Leipzig-based Aircraft Maintenance and Engineering Service GmbH (AMTES) will be subleased to integrator DHL. The facility comprises of 8,500 square meters and can accommodate one B747 freighter or up to 4 narrow-body aircraft B737 / A320 simultaneously.
“Actually, we may not need the entire capacity of the facility, hence the sublease decision.” For the time being, the roofed area and parts of the apron suffice to perform overhauls and line maintenance duties for the Boeing 737 freighters of CargoLogic Germany, Mr. Vekshin states. “Therefore, leasing the hall to fast-expanding DHL Express is a win-win.”
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