Business booms for Air Foyle HeavyLift's An-124

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MAX KINGSLEY-JONES / LONDON

UK operator reports increased revenues as it prepares for introduction of An-225

Air Foyle HeavyLift (AFH), the outsize cargo joint venture launched last year, is reporting strong demand for its Antonov An-124 cargo wet-lease business as it prepares for the full introduction of the only complete example of the massive An-225 freighter.

While rival outsize cargo operator Volga-Dnepr has reported a fall in earnings, Graham Pearce, commercial director of UK-based AFH, says its revenues last year increased by $2 million to around $75 million: "We expect 2002 to be a bumper year, partly as a result of the introduction of the 250t payload An-225." Pearce adds that the joint venture posted a substantial profit last year, and a record first quarter this year. "We took in $16 million in March alone," he says (Flight International, 26 February - 4 March).

AFH, which was created last October but has been operating informally since early last year, was set up following the termination of HeavyLift's co-operative agreement with Russia's Volga-Dnepr. The company is linked to the airline arm of Ukrainian design bureau Antonov, and has an operational fleet of seven An-124s based in Kiev, with an eighth aircraft currently grounded due to a legal dispute. "Most of the An-124 business has been in central Asia," says AFH chairman Chris Foyle.

The giant, six-engined An-225 was restored to flying status last year and has already operated several commercial flights, although is currently grounded for modifications. "The aircraft will be fully back in operation from May and we expect it to fly around 500-700h in the first 12 months," says Pearce.

AFH's An-124s are accumulating around 1,100-1,200h annually, and the An-225's utilisation is expected to reach similar levels eventually. With the major components for a second An-225 stored at Antonov's plant in Kiev, AFH continues to evaluate the prospect of completing the aircraft.

"It would take at least two and half years to complete," says Pearce, who estimates that an investment of $50-100 million would be needed to undertakethe project.

"We are also keeping an eye on the Russian military's An-124 fleet, and could expand our fleet as they retire aircraft," says Foyle, who believes that there are currently around 18 examples flying with the air force.