Alexander Velovich/MOSCOW

Volga-Dnepr, the world's leading outsized cargo carrier, is negotiating an alliance with its major competitor Antonov Airlines. The carriers are also considering operating three Antonov An-225 transporters.

Volga-Dnepr flies 10 Antonov An-124-100 Ruslan heavy freighters and holds over 50% of the world market for heavy and outsized cargo transportation. Antonov Airlines, the air transport department of ANTK Antonov design bureau, has a 34% share. The market is thought to be worth nearly $200 million, with growth forecast to move ahead quickly in the next few years.

Alexey Isaikin, Volga-Dnepr general director, says the two companies have agreed a joint approach to extending the lives of An-124-100 airframes and engines, with further steps for world marketing and operational integration being negotiated.

Substantial improvements to the design have paved the way for talks with possible investors on financing further production and modernisation of the existing fleet, says Isaikin. Volga-Dnepr has received two bank loans, for $6 and $10 million, from Sberbank of Russia, for financing the completion of its 10th An-124 and purchasing another that it has been operating on a lease. The company is also negotiating deals to retrieve two An-124s sitting in Western Europe and Canada.

Isaikin says the would-be alliance may provide a breakthrough to commercial operations of the new Antonov An-70 propfan transport. Designed as a military transport like the An-124, the aircraft shows promise as a commercial freighter to replace several hundred Ilyushin Il-76s and Antonov An-12s still flying, says Isaikin.

Volga-Dnepr is evaluating its expansion into regular cargo transportation from the specific market niche it holds now. The commercial An-70T may play a part in that expansion.

The Medium Transport concern, established for marketing and production of the An-70, has meanwhile opted to place an order with Motor-Sich of Zaporozhye to produce the second batch of seven ZMKB Progress D-27 propfan engines for delivery by the end of 2001 to power a second An-70 prototype and provide some spare engines. With the new emphasis on the commercial An-70T, a group of certification specialists of the CIS Interstate Aviation Committee has already arrived in Kiev to take part in An-70 flight tests.

The alliance of air freighter companies, which is likely to take some time to complete, may need two or three An-225 transports capable of carrying up to 250t, says Isaikin, confirming that the subject is also being negotiated.

Antonov Airlines president Konstantin Loushakov says, in an interview with UNIAN Ukrainian news agency, that the one existing An-225 will be restored to airworthy condition, having stood idle for two years. Its first flight is set for January, and the aircraft should become available for commercial use in the second half of 2001.

Antonov also has another An-225 airframe 50% completed that was put in conservation when it became clear that the Soviet space shuttle programme, whose components it was designed to transport, would not continue.

Source: Flight International