European Union regulators face pressure from angry freighter operators to cut back drastically on the number of special allowances being granted to carriers flying Antonov An-26s and Ilyushin Il-76s in the region.

Russian freight giant Volga-Dnepr says its own investment in developing the modernised Il-76TD-90VD is being made futile by the European Commission's practice of routinely granting exemptions to operators of earlier Il-76 models that are formally banned on noise grounds.

The company's move comes as the European Aviation Safety Agency confirmed that on 28 September it granted a restricted type certificate to the An-26, paving the way for the EC to approve continued operation of the aircraft in the EU. The EC says: "Now that EASA has taken its decision, we will assess the situation and then take an appropriate decision accordingly."

Operators and the developers of the Fokker 50 freighter and other Western models are furious, questioning the basis on which the An-26 certification was given and insisting that the continued operation of the elderly military design threatens to destroy their businesses.

In a letter to one operator seen by Flight International, EASA executive director Patrick Goudou says that "the certification basis was defined by the agency and is at least equivalent to the one of a similar Western type which would have applied for certification at the time the An-26 was designed and approved in its 'home' country".

He adds that the agency performed "a review of the major in-service airworthiness events" of the An-26 as part of the process.

Volga-Dnepr says only the UK and Ireland strictly enforce Stage 3 noise regulations and adds: "Volga-Dnepr wants the EU to set a defined timeline for all operators to become fully compliant."

Group commercial director Dennis Gliznoutsa says: "It has been an expensive and long-term commitment to launch a new-generation version of the Il-76." He says routine exemptions "completely remove the incentive for professional airlines to invest in modern fleets that comply with the laws of the sky".

He adds: "This not only impacts the niche players in the air cargo market. Larger European carriers, with extensive freighter fleets, much of which are currently grounded, are also seeing their business further eroded by these errant operations."

Source: Flight International