Volga-Dnepr Group / Press-center / Media Coverage

Ruslans got tired of standing

06/20/2006

Our airplanes carry freights for the NATO Nations but stand idle in Russia

A huge aerodrome in the settlement of Seshcha, about one hundred kilometers away from the city of Bryansk, is hidden behind birch coppices. Here, a wing of unique air transport giants An-124s and IL-76s is based. They take off very seldom. Why?

When UN needed to redeploy its personnel and equipment from one continent to another, Russia turned out to be the only country able to carry out that complicated task. The US have the Boeing-747, which takes aboard 110 tons - only on 10 tons less than AN-124 Ruslan does. But the American aircraft is can transport only special containers and the freights of certain size. Our heavy freighter is able to carry 4 helicopters or two T-90 tanks, 60 tons each. Ruslans flew 17 hours from Uruguay Africa without refueling. Russian pilots managed to land in places with no landing aids available. The Russian panes took aboard even Japanese turbines, which could not be transported by sea.

Ruslans are probably the most economic airplanes in the word by fuel costs vs payload ratio. Therefore they are in a great demand. No problem, as it would seem - just fly and get your money. But as it turns out, it is not that easy.

Since the time of Ruslans acceptance by the Soviet military in 1985 in Kiev, only 18 such airplanes of the type have been built. Later, Ulyanovsk "Aviastar" production plane produced 36 more. Most of the giants were redeployed in Sescha. But after the start of ‘liberal reforms’ the Army, including Air Force, was put to a 'survival of the fittest' environment. So the giants were finally grounded.

Meanwhile, the world market of air transportations needed heavy freighters. Our giants have not grown decrepit - they are only 15 years old. Volga-Dnepr, a company based in Ulyanovsk (Russia), operated ten Ruslans, two IL-76s and two Boeings and operates more than a half of the global market of outsize and heavy cargo charter flights. The airline's monthly sales of An-124 services are more than 20 million dollars. Cost of one Ruslans flying hour is about 15 thousand dollars, whereas an hour of the American С-17 airplane taking aboard only 79 tons costs customers about 45 thousand dollars. Such cost advantage was appreciated even by the NATO Nations who used the Ukrainian An-124s in for strategic airlift operations. US Operation Desert Storm logistics employed -Dnepr Airline's aircraft. Finally, in April, 2006 the Russian An-124 has won a tender from the American С-17 and will now carry ... NATO troops. Europeans hope to accomplish design and production of a similar aircraft only by the year 2025.

So why do they stay on ground there in Sescha? Alexander Vinokurov, the Air Wing Commander, suggests his own ‘diagnosis’ saying that "the Government is just too busy with other things." But then he added:

"I suppose there are some circles who are not interested in operation of all this fleet. Politics... The fact is that no airline in the world could compete to us in that case!

Alexander has a "SN" stripe on his uniform. It is a sign of advanced piloting skills. Colonel is able to land an large airplane in a mountainous area or execute a precision air deployment to a specified place. Alexander Vinokurov is one of those brilliant officers who give Russia everything they have: at the age of 49 years his total years of service, considering years of risky operations where a year counts for two or more, now makes... 54 years. He has flown 6,200 hours. Colonel Vinokurov was transferred to Sescha in 1987 among first eight pilots who learned to operate the Ruslan. It is easier to name places where he has not been - he has flown to Anadyr, Schmidt's Cape, America, Africa, Indonesia, etc.

Many pilots of Volga-Dnepr some time served in Sescha. At the age of 45 most Air Force officers retire and go to private companies. They normally earn around 15 thousand roubles in the Air Force (~$450) and - 3 thousand dollars at airlines. But I must note that many officers are ready to serve even with the present salary - so much they want to fly. But will the Sescha 'armada' fly again? Generals believe that it is impossible to use the Ruslans for commercial operations and say that it would impair Russia's defense capability. However, who needs Ruslans, which do not fly?

Victor Denisov, Russian Air Mobility Commander, once recognized: "We cannot support absolute serviceability of the aircraft fleet yet, as well as provide flight crews with sufficient fuel for flights". But there in the Air Wing they made calculations and determined that even few Ruslans carrying commercial freights could suffice to earn money to buy fuel for the other aircraft on ground in Sescha.

It is forecasted that by the year 2017 the market of outsize and heavy cargo will grow three times - up to 1.4 billion dollars, and by 2030 it will reach 2.3 billion dollars. Well, so what are we waiting for?

When UN needed to redeploy its personnel and equipment from one continent to another, Russia turned out to be the only country able to carry out that complicated task. The US has the Boeing-747, which takes aboard 110 tons - only on 10 tons less than AN-124 Ruslan does. But the American aircraft is can transport only special containers and the freights of certain size. Our heavy freighter is able to carry 4 helicopters or two T-90 tanks, 60 tons each. Ruslans flew 17 hours from Uruguay Africa without refueling. Russian pilots managed to land in places with no landing aids available. The Russian panes took aboard even Japanese turbines, which could not be transported by sea.

Ruslans are probably the most economic airplanes in the word by fuel costs vs payload ratio. Therefore they are in a great demand. No problem, as it would seem - just fly and get your money. But as it turns out, it is not that easy.

Since the time of Ruslans acceptance by the Soviet military in 1985 in Kiev, only 18 such airplanes of the type have been built. Later, Ulyanovsk Aviastar Production Plant produced 36 more. Most of the giants were redeployed in Sescha. But after the start of liberal reforms the Army, including Air Force, was put to a 'survival of the fittest' environment. So the giants were finally grounded.

Meanwhile, the world market of air transportations needed heavy freighters. Our giants have not grown decrepit - they are only 15 years old. Volga-Dnepr, a company based in Ulyanovsk (Russia), operated ten Ruslans, two IL-76s and two Boeings and operates more than a half of the global market of outsize and heavy cargo charter flights. The airline's monthly sales of An-124 services are more than 20 million dollars. Cost of one Ruslans flying hour is about 15 thousand dollars, whereas an hour of the American С-17 airplane taking aboard only 79 tons costs customers about 45 thousand dollars. Such cost advantage was appreciated even by the NATO Nations who used the Ukrainian An-124s in for strategic airlift operations. US Operation Desert Storm logistics employed -Dnepr Airline’s aircraft. Finally, in April, 2006 the Russian An-124 has won a tender from the American С-17 and will now carry ... NATO troops. Europeans hope to accomplish design and production of a similar aircraft only by the year 2025.

So why do they stay on ground there in Sescha? Alexander Vinokurov, the Air Wing Commander, suggests his own ‘diagnosis’ saying that "the Government is just too busy with other things." But then he added: "I suppose there are some circles who are not interested in operation of all this fleet. Politics... The fact is that no airline in the world could compete to us in that case!”

Alexander has a "SN" stripe on his uniform. It is a sign of advanced piloting skills. Colonel is able to land an large airplane in a mountainous area or execute a precision air deployment to a specified place. Alexander Vinokurov is one of those brilliant officers who give Russia everything they have: at the age of 49 years his total years of service, considering years of risky operations where a year counts for two or more, now makes... 54 years. He has flown 6,200 hours. Colonel Vinokurov was transferred to Sescha in 1987 among first eight pilots who learned to operate the Ruslan. It is easier to name places where he has not been - he has flown to Anadyr, Schmidt's Cape, America, Africa, Indonesia, etc.

Many pilots of Volga-Dnepr some time served in Sescha. At the age of 45 most Air Force officers retire and go to private companies. They normally earn around 15 thousand roubles in the Air Force and - 3 thousand dollars at airlines. But I must note that many officers are ready to serve even with the present salary - so much they want to fly. But will the Sescha 'armada' fly again? Generals believe that it is impossible to use the Ruslans for commercial operations and say that it would impair Russia's defense capability. However, who needs Ruslans, which do not fly?

Victor Denisov, Russian Air Mobility Commander, once recognized: "We cannot support absolute serviceability of the aircraft fleet yet, as well as provide flight crews with sufficient fuel for flights". But there in the Air Wing they made calculations and determined that even a few Ruslans carrying commercial freights could suffice to earn money to buy fuel for the other aircraft on ground in Seschino.

It is forecasted that by the year 2017 the market of outsize and heavy cargo will grow three times - up to 1.4 billion dollars, and by 2030 it will reach 2,3 billion dollars. Well, so what are we waiting for?

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