Moscow-based Volga-Dnepr Group (VDG) is the parent of scheduled service carrier AirBridge Cargo, which operates a growing fleet of 747-400 and 747-8 freighters primarily in service between Asia and Europe, via Russia. VDG also recently acquired Atran, with the intention of replacing that carrier’s aging An-12 turboprops with freighter converted 737s, to be used both in an express network and in feeder service to support AirBridge. VDG President Alexey Isaikin was quoted at the time of the acquisition as saying: “Alongside express delivery, the new division will carry out general cargo and charter services. Our goal is to create an operator with a route network covering former Soviet states and comparable with FedEx and UPS in terms of the scope of activities.” Given that it is considerably easier to operate a feeder service in support of a big cargo carrier than to operate an express business in the style of FedEx and UPS, we expect that much of the flying will be general cargo, rather than express packages.
VDG confirmed to Cargo Facts earlier this year that it had a Letter of Intent in place with a conversion house for several 737-400 passenger-to-freighter conversions, but at that time did not specify which conversion house it planned to work with. However, given that AEI had the only 737 P-to-F program so far certified in Russia, connecting the dots was not too difficult. Regarding the number of 737-400s to be converted for Atran, neither Aviation Capital Group nor AEI would comment, but Mr. Isaikin was quoted last year as saying the company planned to provide Atran with up to ten freighter-converted 737s.
The unit currently in conversion is a high gross weight unit built in 1997 – a relatively young aircraft. The AEI 737-400SF conversion will include a main-deck cargo loading system supplied by Ancra International, and will allow the freighter to carry ten 88″x125″x82″ or eight 96″x125″x82″ pallets in positions 1 through 10, plus a 53:x88″x64″ pallet in position 11.