The uncertain future of the An-124.

What could replace this?
What could replace this?

There has been much speculation recently on the whereabouts of – and even the operators of – Russia’s An-124s. Former operator Polet, which was forced to file for bankruptcy last year and has repeatedly been in the Russian courts since, fighting various creditors, is reported to have at last been forced to give up its two An-124s. One European publication reported that the aircraft, owned by Ilyushin Finance Company, will go to Volga-Dnepr – the largest An-124 operator, with ten units in its current fleet. Further, a source close to the An-124 market indicated to Cargo Facts that another Russian operator, state-owned 224 Flight Unit, which has four of the type in commercial configuration, has also been in talks to hand one of them over to Volga-Dnepr.

However, while rumor-mongers may have their own views, Volga-Dnepr has come out and scotched all the speculation, telling Cargo Facts there is “no truth” in news of any potential deals.

But regardless of the lack of clarity about current and future ownership, there is another difficulty with the An-124. It was produced as a joint venture between Russia and Ukraine, and with political relations between the two countries at an all-time low, the aircraft will be tricky to maintain – in three years’ time, warned one cargo executive, it may be impossible to maintain the engines. And it’s not looking likely that Russia/Ukraine relations are set to improve any time soon – both countries have just banned the other’s airlines from their airspace. This has led some carriers to believe that there will be greater demand for nose-loading 747 freighters in the future. (We remind you that Volga-Dnepr recently signed an MoU with Boeing for twenty 747-8Fs, not all of which will necessarily go to AirBridgeCargo.)

Demand for An-124 lift has softened in recent years, prompting the question of whether Volga-Dnepr is trying to amass as many as possible for parts, in order to be able to maintain its fleet, with the pleasant byproduct of gaining a near-monopoly in Russia

Outside of Russia, things are a little clearer. Ukraine-based Antonov Airlines operates seven of the giant transports, and the UAE’s Maximus Air Cargo continues to operate one. One question that does arise, though, concerns the state of Ruslan International, the marketing company jointly set up by Volga-Dnepr and Antonov Airlines to sell the capacity of their combined seventeen An-124s. So far, tensions between Russia and Ukraine do not seem to have created any problems within Ruslan, but one has to wonder about its future.

Until recently, Libyan Air Cargo also operated two An-124s. One is now in storage in Ukraine, while the other is still in Libya. This latter is owned by the government, but currently in need of some maintenance after it took a few bullets during the Tripoli airport battle.

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