The outsize cargo market served by the Antonov An-124 heavylift freighter shrank from $207 million in total sales in 2000 to $178 million last year.

Cargo volumes from the USA into Europe dropped by 41% and fell 28% in the other direction, according to the largest An-124-100 operator, Volga-Dnepr, whose income last year dropped to $83 million from $125 million in 2000.

Cargo traffic from Russia to South-East Asia, however, climbed 23%, but the biggest growth market was the Middle East where cargo volume grew by over 400% due to the Afghanistan conflict. Although figures have yet to be released, Volga-Dnepr's profits were lower than expected.

The company's nine An-124-100s carried 23,000t of cargo in 2001 compared to 31,600t the previous year. Volga-Dnepr's fellow An-124 operators, Antonov Airlines and Polyet, also registered a drop in traffic last year, despite adding the An-225 Mriya and an An-124-100 to their fleets.

Volga-Dnepr continues to seek UK certification for the An-124-100, which chief executive Aleksei Isaikin believes will take two years. When the aircraft is certificated, Volga-Dnepr plans to move one or two aircraft onto the UK register in order to improve the airline's attractiveness to foreign investors.

The airline plans to open lines of credit with Western and Russian banks, including Citibank, Eurobank, IFC and Sberbank, to fund fleet upgrades, including conversion to International Civil Aviation Organisation Chapter IV noise requirements. "We have agreed with Antonov on that and are now waiting an official reply from the engine-maker ZMKB Progress whether Chapter IV compliance is achievable, and how much time and money it will take," Isaikin says.

Source: Flight International