Russian carrier Red Wings is introducing cargo services after acquiring the freight specialist Sky Gates Airlines.
The acquisition, which took placed in August, brings an Ilyushin Il-96-400T into the fleet following an effort to restore the aircraft to flight status.
“[Red Wings’] cargo fleet will consist of domestically produced aircraft, including those that have undergone the procedure for restoring airworthiness,” adds the carrier.
Red Wings says the aircraft (RA-96103) carried out its first commercial flight between Turkmenbashi and Moscow Zhukovsky on 10 December, after an outbound service via Dubai.
Sky Gates’ Il-96-400T was originally delivered to Russian operator Polet in 2009.
It was parked for several years by lessor Ilyushin Finance, according to Cirium fleets data.
Russian freight carrier AirBridgeCargo – which was operating Boeing 747s before the country’s air transport industry fell under international sanctions – had been due to lease the jet this year.
But it has instead been taken up by Sky Gates.
Russian aerospace firm United Aircraft states that Ilyushin Finance oversaw “significant” efforts at the Voronezh airframer VASO to remove the four-engined aircraft from long-term storage and carry out essential maintenance in accordance with service bulletins.
Ilyushin Finance general director Mikhail Podkhvatlin says a “lot of joint work” has been conducted after a government decision to restore a number of aircraft to flight capability.
“One of the flagships of Russian air transport, the Il-96-400T, has been returned to service,” he adds. “It has arrived at Sky Gates just in time, since air cargo transportation services are now in great demand.”
Red Wings says the resurrection of Sky Gates, which originally emerged in 2016 as a 747-400 freighter operator, is an “ambitious task”.
“This is both a business direction and part of a plan to transform Red Wings from a regional carrier into a fully-fledged aviation holding company,” says general director Evgeny Solodilin.
The project requires a systematic approach to the training and retraining of flight personnel to pilot these types of aircraft.”
Red Wings says crews will be trained not only on the Il-96-400T but also the Il-76TD, supported by instructors at VASO. It adds that the Sky Gates fleet will be expanded to include additional domestically-built aircraft.