By David Kaminski-Morrow in London

Russian outsize freight operator Volga-Dnepr is forging a marketing partnership with Antonov Airlines, after the break-up of Antonov's pact with the UK's Air Foyle HeavyLift.

To be known as Ruslan International - after the name associated with the Antonov An-124 freighter, used by both carriers - the venture will jointly market the capabilities of the two sides' fleets, and aims to improve particularly the service offered to the ad hoc market. Ruslan International will also enable Volga-Dnepr and Antonov Airlines to benefit from a joint spares pool, as well as shared loading equipment, and to combine forces to drive forward a planned restart of An-124 production.

Volga-Dnepr and Antonov Airlines between them operate 17 An-124s. Antonov Airlines, the commercial arm of Antonov Design Bureau, also has access to the sole example of the Antonov An-225, the world's largest freighter, while Volga-Dnepr's heavylift fleet includes several Ilyushin Il-76s. "The co-operation has been driven by the need to continue to serve both the ad hoc market and a number of existing long-term contracts that require allocation of a significant portion of both carriers' fleets for such long-term obligations," says Ruslan International.

Ownership and shareholding of Ruslan International has yet to be finalised, but it will build on the two sides' Ruslan Salis partnership that last year agreed to provide strategic airlift to NATO using An-124s.

Volga-Dnepr split with long-term partner HeavyLift Cargo Airlines in early 2001 and HeavyLift subsequently teamed with Air Foyle, the marketing specialist for Antonov Airlines - their partnership becoming known as Air Foyle HeavyLift. Air Foyle HeavyLift says that its contract with Antonov Airlines was not renewed at the end of June. Commercial and operational staff with Air Foyle HeavyLift will instead transfer to Ruslan International, which will decide whether to retain them.

Source: Flight International