Polet Airlines, the Russian AN-124 operator, is feeling the pinch, writes Cargo Facts’ European editor, Alex Lennane.
According to some locally placed sources, it may struggle to see out the year. The airline has faced a string of court appearances relating to its two AN-124s and various claims of debt. Although it appears to be winning some of the cases, the source said: “It is normal in Russia for a struggling company to go through lots of court cases, but it doesn’t bode well.” The most recent case saw Polet’s home base, Voronezh Airport, find its claim for RUB40 million ($1.1 million) in debts essentially thrown out, as the judge ruled that Polet only owed RUB5 million, while the airport owed Polet nearly RUB7 million.
But a winning appeal against a ban on Polet using one of its AN-124s was overturned, leaving it all but flightless. Businessman Alexander Lebedev, whose companies own a share of lessor Ilyushin Finance Company (IFC), applied to a court in February to ban Polet from operating the aircraft, claiming he was owed some US$9 million. The two aircraft were arrested, one in Moscow and one in the UK. An appeals court later allowed the airline to continue operating one of the aircraft, but that judgment has since been overturned. IFC had also filed a bankruptcy lawsuit against Polet, but a separate court suspended the hearing until later in May, after it said IFC had failed to supply the correct documentation. Earlier in the year, GSA Avia Partner and insurance company MAX also had their cases against Polet rejected.
But if not at Polet, where will the AN-124s fly? Eyes in Russia are firmly on what may happen to the ex-Polet AN-124s – two of just three (Maximus also has one) outside of the Antonov/Volga-Dnepr fleet. Several industry observers had forecast that the Polet aircraft would also join the V-D fleet, but news that most Volga-Dnepr staff are moving to a three-day week as business struggles, suggests the company may not now want another two An-124s. Sources are indicating that Volga-Dnepr Airlines has seen heavylift and project work tail off in recent months, and that it may have overstretched itself with the acquisition of Atran and investment in now-defunct Air Cargo Germany. Other possible problems include the worsening relations between Russia and Ukraine, home of Kiev-based aircraft partner Antonov Airlines, which could impair maintenance as well as strategy and future production plans for the two companies.
Despite the bad news for Polet and Volga-Dnepr, elsewhere in Russia things seem somewhat better. The Russian aviation authority announced that cargo volumes grew 4% in March – although overall in the first quarter they fell 2%. And AirBridgeCargo (the scheduled-service subsidiary of the Volga-Dnepr Group) reported tonnage up 9% in the first quarter, with a 71% load factor, while freight tonne kilometers flown rose 13%.