**Update 30/03/21 @ 17:42 UTC – Added flight details after response from airline**
In a series of six flights, Ukrainian cargo-specialist Antonov Airlines has carried COVID-19 vaccine machinery from Germany to the US, despite heavy snowfall over the east coast forcing airport changes. Chartered by DHL Global Forwarding, the airline operated its An-124 Ruslan planes, carrying one hundred tonnes each.
Destination airport switch at short notice
Antonov Airlines (or Antonov Design Bureau) operated six An-124 flights from Frankfurt-Hahn Airport in Germany to airports in the US, including Baltimore, Maryland, and Kinston Regional Jetport, North Carolina.
Heavy snowfall forced the quadjets’ pilots to change destination airports navigating the poor weather conditions. Instead of one shipment landing in Baltimore as planned, the crew had to make their way to Stewart International Airport, New York, to ensure safe delivery.
“The flights were a great charter project that we carried out together with Antonov Airlines professionally and to the fullest customer satisfaction. In the past few months there have been a number of challenges to master, most recently a snowstorm on the US east coast, which meant we had to change the destination airport at short notice,” Christopher Klein, Senior Manager Global Charters, DHL Global Forwarding, said in a statement.
The flights took place over a period of six months. The first flight to Baltimore took place on September 26th, 2020, and the final flight operated to Kinston on February 27th this year.
The flight that had to change its destination to Stewart International Airport operated on February 14th and was affected by the same storms that saw several airports in the US close entirely.
Specially engineered loading equipment
Antonov Airlines has a fleet of seven An-124 Ruslans, and the type has a payload of 150 tonnes. The medical equipment transported as part of the charter agreement with DHL weighed in at 100 tonnes per consignment.
The cargo was loaded and unloaded using external cranes, and what the airline says is unique equipment developed by its own in-house engineers.
Dmytro Prosvirin, Head of Customer Service Department, Antonov Airlines, said, “It is a global effort in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and we are honoured that Antonov Airlines played a key role in this.”
Not the largest fleet of An-124s
Despite the name suggesting that could be the case, Antonov Airlines is not the sole operator of Antonov aircraft. Although, it is the only carrier in possession of the only specimen of the world’s largest plane – the An-225 Mriya, which has the capacity to transport up to 250 tonnes of cargo
Other operators of the An-124 are air charter specialist Volga-Dnepr with 12, Abu Dhabi-based Maximus Air Cargo with one, and the Russian Aerospace Forces with 12 in service and another 12 in reserve.
While the pandemic has most certainly caused a rise in pharmaceutical equipment airfreight, the An-124s have also been busy with other transports. These past six months, among their more notable cargo, they have also transported mining equipment to Brazil, a 54-tonne generator from Ghana to India, and fire trucks to help fight the California wildfires.
Have you ever seen one of the Antonov cargo planes close up or when it is being offloaded? What was it like?