Volga Dnepr grounds AN-124 fleet following engine failure
The Volga-Dnepr Group is temporarily grounding its eight AN-124 aircraft after one of the heavy cargo planes had to make an emergency landing in Novosibirsk last week due to engine problems. The emergency landing caused severe damage to the aircraft.
With a maximum capacity of 150 tonnes, the AN-124’s are mainly used for charter work such as auxiliary flights or for the transport of heavy cargo. The aircraft are also hired for heavy military equipment. There are about 20 of these special cargo planes available in the world but with Volga Dnepr’s decision to ground the fleet, almost half of these are now being withdrawn from the market for an indefinite period.
“Safety is our top priority”, says Volga Dnepr’s commercial director Konstantin Vekshin. “We took this measure voluntarily. We have not been officially banned from flying”, he adds. The air freight forwarder will consult with the Russian aviation authorities and an internal and independent investigation will be opened into the cause of the recent incident.
The company also says it is in talks with its customers to find alternative transport solutions as the eight cargo planes were fully booked until the end of this year. Given the high demand for cargo flights at the moment, customers will have to count on delays, Volga-Dnepr warns.
The only alternative to the AN-124’s from Volga Dnepr is those of the major Ukrainian rival Antonov Airlines, which has an equal number of these aeroplanes. In some cases, the B-747 freight jumbos could also be an alternative. However, Volga Dnepr points out that Antonov Airlines, which is closely linked to the aircraft manufacturer Antonov, would also do well to have the engines of its cargo planes thoroughly checked.
Volga Dnepr cannot indicate when the AN-124’s will be able to fly again but expresses the hope that the investigation and possible repairs can be completed in “a few weeks”. The company owns sixty aircraft engines for its fleet of AN-124’s. All engines are Ukrainian-made, which could lead to delays given the tense relations between Russia and Ukraine and the rivalry between Volga Dnepr and Antonov Airlines, independent observers say.