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The decade-long near-monopoly of the Ruslan International AN-124 joint venture will officially end on 31 December.
Partners Volga-Dnepr Group and Antonov Airlines, hamstrung by the poor relationship between their respective countries of Russian and Ukraine, are to call it a day, although technical collaboration must continue.
Manufacturer Antonov, as the designer of the aircraft and type certificate holder, insisted that the aircraft must remain under its technical supervision.
It said in a statement earlier this year: “In case of withdrawal of the AN-124−100 Ruslan civil aircraft from supervision by Antonov, the company will be forced to address international aviation organisations with a statement about the discharge of its responsibility for the safe operation of these airplanes on international air routes.”
While the two companies have reached agreement on maintaining airworthiness and flight safety support, the interesting part to watch will be how Antonov and Volga-Dnepr compete in the provision of the AN-124. Antonov Airlines has seven, while Volga-Dnepr has 12.
A well-placed source told The Loadstar it was likely that the currently expensive charter rates for the aircraft would become more competitive – but Volga-Dnepr, as a more commercially minded company, would have the edge on marketing.
However, according to Cargo Facts, Antonov has been eyeing new charter outfit Air X as a possible marketing option.
Malta-based Air X, has just been granted rights by the Department of Transport to provide “foreign charter transportation of cargo between any point or points in the United States and any other point or points”, and recently poached staff from Chapman Freeborn.
UPDATE: However, Antonov has since announced it has a UK sales team in place to market the aircraft, under the company name Dreamlifts Ltd.
Volga-Dnepr issued a statement which appeared aimed at dismissing any hint of possible government interference.
Dennis Gliznoutsa, vice president, is quoted: “Volga-Dnepr is a private group of companies and a commercial enterprise that is proud to support major customers in industries across the globe.
“We are free to take commercial decisions that are in the best interests of our group and our customers, and this represents a new and exciting chapter for Volga-Dnepr Group.”
There has been much talk over many years of renewing production of the AN-124. But earlier this year, chief executive of Russian aircraft firm Ilyushin Sergei Velmozhkin said his company would begin research and development on a new transport aircraft, with a scheduled in-service date of 2027.
The IL-106 has proposed payloads of 80-120 tonnes, which would rival that of the AN-124.