Volga-Dnepr is to take two Tupolev Tu-204C-120 freighters equipped with Rolls-Royce RB211-535E4B engines on lease in a deal about to be signed with the leasing company Sirocco Aerospace International. The Russian cargo airline is also spending nearly $30 million upgrading its Antonov An-124 fleet.

Volga-Dnepr president Alexei Isaikin says that the deal is "-close to being signed". He expects the company, one of Russia's leading air-cargo carriers, to take delivery of the aircraft early in 1998.

Volga-Dnepr will be the third declared customer for Sirocco, a subsidiary of Egyptian-based Kato Aromatic. Earlier this year, Kras Air of Krasnoyarsk announced that it was taking ten aircraft in passenger and cargo configurations, and Egyptian start-up Air Cairo is taking a mix of passenger and freight versions in a lease deal for five aircraft.

Isaikin says that, while Volga Dnepr has a letter of intent to purchase four Ilyushin Il-96T freighters, it is not clear when they will be available, while the Tu-204s are virtually ready for delivery.

In addition to acquiring new capacity, the airline is also planning to invest about $4 million on starting to hushkit the Zaporozhye D-18T engines on its fleet of seven An-124-100s. One of the aircraft has been hushkitted to comply with Chapter 3 noise regulations.

The carrier is also working on improving the durability of the engines, whose liftime, even after recent refinements, does not exceed 4,000h.

The airline maintains an operational stock of 46 powerplants for its seven four-engined aircraft.In addition, it is spending $20-25 million to install western avionics to comply with various new international requirements.

For the future, Isaikin says that Volga Dnepr is enthusiastic about the potential for the new Antonov An-70 "It's a brilliant machine,but there is a long way to go from prototype to series production. If it reaches that stage, we will be one of the first customers,"he says.

Volga Dnepr is one of three major airlines which have formed the (Russian) Association of Air Cargo operators. Along with Atran (formerly AVIATRANS) and Atlant Soyuz, Volga Dnepr set up the association to promote air-cargo regulation and operations and to negotiate with authorities on relevant matters.

Other cargo operators, including Aeroflot-Russian International, are in discussions to join the association. Some 30% of commercial aircraft operational in Russia and the CIS are freighters.

Source: Flight International