The European Commission will decide shortly whether to renew the derogation permitting the Antonov An-26 twin-turboprop freighter to be operated in Europe.

A group of at least four European operators of Western turboprop-freighters, as well as Fokker 50 freighter-conversion specialist AircraftConversions, is urging the EC not to renew the permission when it expires on 28 September.

The type has been operating since 2003 courtesy of a derogation granted by the Commission in a decision heavily based on advice at the time from the European Aviation Safety Agency and driven by the expansion of the European Union into eastern Europe.

Antonov formally applied for certification of the aircraft in Europe several years ago with the aim of completing it by now, but it is unclear how close it is to achieving that and being granted what would be a restricted certificate of airworthiness.

The EC's transport directorate says: "We are waiting for the EASA conclusions on the certification process to assess the situation and to take the appropriate decision thereafter."

EASA adds: "We will decide [on the restricted certificate] by the end of the month when the current exemption runs out. And the Commission will decide whether or not to prolong the current derogation."

Opponents of an extension argue that east European operators of the An-26 have been able to undercut operators of fully certificated aircraft - notably the ATR range and converted Fokker freighters - by using an aircraft that is not fully certificated and which they say is inferior in terms of safety, noise, emissions and fuel burn. They are not allowed to use a non-certificated type themselves.

The campaigning group claims 27 An-26s are in operation in the European Union and says in a letter to transport commissioner Antonio Tajani that the An-26 "is penalising the traditional cargo operators because of very low acquisition costs [and] very cheap spare parts despite the very expensive upgrades of safety and the operational requirements of the EU to which all EU operators must be in compliance.

"A grossly unfair competition in the cargo market has been generated with benefit to An-26 operators. Original EU cargo airlines lost important shares of the cargo market as a consequence."

"We remind you of the fact that the An-26 has military-designed and built engines which are extremely noisy and very polluting when compared with the traditional European equivalents - ATR 42/72, Fokker F27 or Fokker 50."

The group wants the EC either to terminate the certification process or to put a deadline on its completion, but not to allow any further derogation otherwise. It notes that "more than 1,000" examples of the An-26 have been manufactured, any of which are theoretically candidates for operation in Europe.

Source: Flight International