East Line Airlines is again seeking to acquire the Ilyushin Il-76TF - the stretched, Aviadvigatel PS-90-powered version of the four-engined Russian freighter - after dropping plans to acquire Ilyushin Il-96 freighters.

According to airline director Aleksei Raevsky, the Moscow-based airline and cargo carrier has decided to remain committed to ramp-equipped freighters such as the Il-76. Its planned acquisition of freight-converted Il-96s fell through due to the investigation by Russia's federal security service (FSB) which started in 2000 after contraband cargos were found on board an East Line-operatedIl-76TD carrying Chinese goods to Moscow.

The FSB investigation resulted in a partial grounding and losses of over $10 million for the airline.

Because of the financial setback, East Line was unable to fund the completion of two Il-76TFs by Tashkent-based TAPO, which were ordered in 2000 and due for delivery in late 2001 and early 2002. However, the carrier is understood to have resumed talks with state leasing company UzAviaLeasing on the joint funding of the firstIl-76TF that is near to completion at TAPO - it is missing engines and 30% of its avionics. The airline describes the Il-76TF's performance as "very promising", as it can carry 15t more payload than the standard Aviadvigatel D-30KP-powered Il-76TD and its hourly fuel consumption is 2.5t lower.

The TF is based on the military Il-76MF which has almost completed acceptance trials with the Russian air force. Ilyushin says the civil model will only need a short certification programme.

Meanwhile, Raevsky says the airline will not modify its ageingIl-76TD fleet to International Civil Aviation Organisation Chapter 3 standards, as he hopes that there will be enough services to airports that do not ban Chapter 2 aircraft.

Raevsky hopes that some dedicated cargo airports in Europe will continue to accept noisy freighters even after the April cut-off date. The airline will operate its passenger flights to Europe with Chapter 3-compliant Yakovlev Yak-42Ds, while four newly acquired Chapter 2 Il-86s will be used on charter operations to China and the Middle East.

Source: Flight International