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Commercial operators bid to buy Russian air force's An-124 outsize freighters

Several operators of the Antonov An-124 outsize freighters are expected to line up to acquire more of the type from the Russian military as it prepares to dispose of its An-124 fleet.

Overall, the country's defence ministry has 21 units - more than one-third of 56 heavylift transports manufactured by airframers Aviant and Aviastar since 1982. It stopped using them in December 2005 when they were grounded at an air force base near Bryansk.

Civilian models of the An-124 are now in service with five cargo carriers. Russia's Volga-Dnepr Airlines owns 10 modernised An-124-100s, while its compatriot carrier Polet and Ukraine's Antonov Airlines operate eight of them each.

In 2002 Libyan Arab Air Cargo acquired two examples, while in 2004 UAE-based Maximus Air Cargo acquired an An-124 from the manufacturer.

Citing industry sources, Russian media reports claim that defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov has issued a directive to offer four heavylifters for sale shortly and the rest before the end of this year.

Ilyushin Aviation Complex, which along with Aviastar is part of state-controlled United Aircraft (OAK), will act as a seller by proxy. According to its general director Viktor Livanov, the military will contract transport services involving the use of An-124s from freight specialists if it requires its own capacity.

Although the technical state of the ex-air force aircraft is not clear, Volga-Dnepr vice-president Sergey Shklyanik expects intense competition for the freighters, given a lack of capacity in the outsize cargo market.

"Conversion work on existing airframes is much cheaper than building such freighters from scratch," he argues.

Livanov says Ilyushin has already received applications for the first batch of An-124s from Volga-Dnepr, Antonov Airlines, Atlant-Soyuz and Maximus Air Cargo.

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