An alliance between Russian and American cargo carriers could find its first task to be the removal of the US Navy's damaged EP-3E surveillance aircraft from China

The retrieval of the US Navy's damaged Lockheed Martin EP-3E Aries from China is set to become the launch contract for Atlas Air's new alliance with Volga-Dnepr to market use of the Antonov An-124-100 heavylift transport to US Government agencies.


Atlas has signed an agreement with Volga-Dnepr to act as the Russian company's general sales agent for US federal agency contracts. The intent is to eventually offer the An-124 heavy transport on a charter basis for the airlift of outsize items such as oil rigs, launch vehicles, satellites, chemical reactors and heavy machinery.

The agreement will help fill the void left by the rift earlier this year between UK-based Heavylift and Volga Dnepr. "This is the first step in what we hope will be an expanded and long term relationship with Volga-Dnepr," says Richard Shuyler, Atlas chief executive officer.

It is understood that the launch charter contract will be to recover the EP-3E stranded on Hainan island since a collision with a Chinese Shenyang F-8 fighter in April. China has refused to allow the US Navy and Lockheed Martin in to repair the turboprop and fly it out, instead insisting on the aircraft being dismantled and transported.

Atlas wants to use the An-124 to move loads currently too large to be transported by its 747 freighters and expand the company's charter business, which now contributes only around 5% of revenue. The An-124 can carry a 120t payload and has an internal cargo hold of 1,000m3 (35,240ft3). The market for outsize cargo airlift is projected to grow by 10-12% a year.

Konstantin Vekchine, the Russian airline's director for North America, says: "Atlas will not act for us in general cargo sales; we are handling this ourselves. We have retained the customers and markets developed in our period of partnership with Heavylift, which ended in February." Nevertheless, he said that the two airlines would assist each other in the commercial sector wherever it made sense.

He says talks have been held with the USA Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Defense.

Source: Flight International