HeavyLift plans passenger flights

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Paul Duffy/MOSCOW

UK cargo specialist HeavyLift is branching out into the passenger charter market. The company has already acquired its first aircraft for the service and expects to start operations in April. The diversification comes as Russian carrier Volga Dnepr terminates its 10-year partnership with HeavyLift operating the Antonov An-124 in the outsize cargo market.

HeavyLift commercial director Graham Pearce says: "We have purchased our first passenger aircraft, an Airbus A300B4, from GECAS for this work. It has commonality with our freighters for spares and operational purposes. We are looking for a suitable name [for the airline], and expect to commence operations in April."

Ex-TransAer chairman PJ McGoldrick has been involved in setting up the new operation. TransAer went bust last year.

While London Stansted-based HeavyLift pursues its passenger charter ambitions, its joint venture with Volga Dnepr ended on 1 February. Volga Dnepr's general director, Alexei Isaikin, says the principal reason for the termination was to allow the Russian airline to "attract the significant investment needed to develop future fleet expansion", and to improve the legal and financial responsibilities to its customers.

To cater for international customers, Volga Dnepr has set up two new sales and marketing subsidiaries, one at London's Stansted Airport and the other in Houston, Texas. The partnership's break-up leaves the UK's Air Foyle and Antonov Airlines as the pre-eminent international alliance offering An-124 capacity. Poliot is the only other credible An-124 operator outside the Russian military.

Pearce expresses disappointment at the ending of the Volga Dnepr partnership, but confirms that HeavyLift intends to stay in the An-124 market. "We have already been approached by several potential partners, and are in discussions. Volga Dnepr will survive without us, they have learned a lot about the business from the partnership, but they may find it is not as easy in the future to gain the business. Our name has provided security to many of the defence and blue chip customers for the aircraft," he says.

HeavyLift operates a fleet of Shorts Belfasts and A300B4 freighters.