The Ruslan Salis partnership of Volga-Dnepr Airlines and ANTK Antonov of Ukraine has secured a NATO contract to provide strategic airlift services to the alliance using up to six Antonov An-124s. The deal to provide NATO’s strategic airlift interim solution (SALIS) was concluded during a 23 March ceremony in Leipzig, Germany following the addition of Swedish approval to a 15-nation agreement reached in late January.
NATO’s initial contract covers services over a three-year period, with options to extend the agreement until 2012. Two An-124s will be permanently ready at Leipzig, with four more aircraft to be provided if required.
The An-124s, flown by Russian and Ukrainian crews, will operate for a guaranteed 2,000 flight hours a year, providing strategic airlift services until after Airbus Military’s A400M transport enters European service in 2009.
An official value of the deal has not been released but industry sources suggest it could be worth up to €650 million ($785 million) over the life of the contract. A provisional agreement was signed by NATO and Ruslan Salis last November, following a competition with other An-124 operators and Boeing, which offered its C-17 transport.
Volga-Dnepr signed a contract with Russia’s Aviastar plant last August for five new An-124-100Ms. The Russian manufacturer has been in talks with the Russian government over funding to restart series production of the aircraft.
HOWARD GETHIN / MOSCOW