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Antonov Airlines is ready to provide any required additional support to the EU and NATO’s Strategic Airlift International Solution (SALIS) programme, following the exit of Volga-Dnepr, the other major operator of the AN-124 aircraft.
A consortium of 10 countries has guaranteed access to AN-124 aircraft for NATO and EU operations. Under the Ruslan joint-venture between Antonov and Volga-Dnepr, SALIS countries could get two of the aircraft on charter, two more on six days’ notice and another two on nine days’ notice, with a commitment to using the aircraft for a minimum of 1,600 flying hours per year.
However, Volga-Dnepr decided to let its SALIS contract expire at the end of the year.
Antonov, while expressing willingness to fill in, has only seven AN-124s and could, therefore, struggle to fulfil the same terms of the contract. It also, according to media reports, charged considerably more than Volga-Dnepr, and countries may baulk at higher fees.
According to the German media, last year Volga-Dnepr performed 973 hours for SALIS, while Antonov operated for 629 hours. Antonov set its fee at €37,500, while Volga-Dnepr’s flying hour charge was €23,300.
The largest user of SALIS services was the German armed forces, which reserved 1,080 hours for 2017 and 980 hours for 2018, and the French Air Force.
As a French MP noted, replacing the AN-124 with the A400M military transport aircraft would require five aircraft instead of one, and the cost of flights would triple.
According to Ukraine media, Antonov is also in talks with the EU’s NATO allies over jointly developing the AN-178, an aircraft intended to replace AN-12s, and the equivalent of a C-160. It can carry up to 18 tons of cargo, in shipping containers. Antonov is also showcasing the AN-77, which has short take-off and landing capabilities and capacity of 77 tonnes.
The SALIS participating countries are Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.