© Maksym Dragunov

The future of the AN-124 aircraft is in serious doubt after Ukrainian manufacturer Antonov said it would not work with Russian companies after January 1 2017, and could halt international AN-124 operations.

Ukraine announced on Wednesday that it was leaving the trilateral Ukraine-Russia-NATO Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS), which would also see the end of Ruslan, the joint marketing agreement between Antonov Airlines and Volga-Dnepr.

CargoForwarder reported that Antonov had also announced a flight ban on all Russia-registered AN-124 operations outside of Russia – which could be a severe blow to Volga-Dnepr. The Loadstar was unable to confirm this however.

Volga-Dnepr has 10 AN-124s, and Antonov Airlines has seven of the aircraft, which are widely used in military operations as well as for commercial heavylift cargo.

With the end surely nigh for Ruslan, manufacturer Antonov will need a company to market its AN-124s. According to Cargo Facts, it has been in talks with AirX – a charter airline moving into cargo, which recently poached a number of Chapman Freeborn executives.

As Cargo Facts notes, why else would “six of its senior staff suddenly decide to work for a small charter airline that operated a handful of small passenger aircraft and one ancient narrowbody freighter”?

The row began when the Russian aviation authority threatened to stop using Antonov’s support services for AN-124s and re-engining the aircraft using a Russian company.

Antonov countered that as the designer of the aircraft and the Type Certificate holder, it was the only company able to work on or change the aircraft – and any which had been altered by other companies would not be fit to fly.

Antonov said: “In case of withdrawal of the AN−124−100 Ruslan civil aircraft from supervision by Antonov, the company will be forced to address international aviation organisations with a statement about the discharge of its responsibility for the safe operation of these airplanes on international air routes.

“Flight accidents could pose a threat to life and property of inhabitants of countries where the aircraft would be operated.”

However, yesterday the chief executive of Russian aircraft firm Ilyushin, Sergei Velmozhkin, said his company would begin research and development work on a new transport aircraft, with a scheduled in-service date of 2027.

Called the IL-106, it has proposed payloads of 80-120 tonnes – which would rival the payload of the AN-124.

The ongoing ‘war of words’ between Russia and Ukraine also explains why the latter approached China to work with it on a new line for the AN-255.

Volga-Dnepr was not immediately available for comment.

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