Antonov Airlines has emerged as favourite to supply NATO with a strategic heavylift capability after the signing of a preliminary agreement between NATO and Ukraine.

NATO is expected to issue tenders for its strategic airlift interim solution (SALIS) requirement in the third quarter, likely to be a seven-year contract to supply NATO members except the UK and the USA with six Antonov An-124 outsize cargo freighters until a long-term combined capability is defined.

Antonov Airlines, a partnership between the Antonov design bureau and UK sales agents Air Foyle HeavyLift, is thought to have benefited from the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between NATO and Ukraine over the supply of heavylift capability. Russian competitor Volga-Dnepr Airlines, which has confirmed it will bid against Antonov Airlines, says that in any tender process it is "some way behind", although a selection is not expected until October.

Volga-Dnepr group vice-president Sergey Shklianik says its lagging position is due to the political situation. "Ukraine is obviously pursuing a policy of a very close relationship with NATO and in many cases following NATO policies; the participation of Ukraine in this [contract] is completely justified by this policy," he says. If Antonov Airlines were prime contractor, Volga-Dnepr would expect to be subcontracted a large share of the work, as Antonov Airlines has insufficient aircraft to fill the contract, adds Shklianik.

Antonov Airlines is supplying An-124 capability to NATO under a temporary contract for missions to Afghanistan, although it subcontracts around one-fifth of the flights to Volga-Dnepr. The contract is expected to be renewed in July. Despite this and the MoU, Chris Foyle, chairman of Air Foyle HeavyLift, says the SALIS contract is "far from a forgone conclusion" for Antonov Airlines.



Source: Flight International