Volga-Dnepr Has Reactivated 4 AN-124s Since Grounding The Type

Cargo specialist Volga-Dnepr has confirmed that four of its An-124s have now been returned to service, with a further five expected to be in the skies before the end of the month. The airline had grounded its entire fleet out of an abundance of caution following an uncontained engine failure last November.

An-124 Volga-Dnepr
Five An-124 are back in service with Volga-Dnepr. Photo: Getty Images

The fleet will be back to nine by the end of the month

Cargo airline Volga-Dnepr has confirmed today that four of its AN-124 aircraft are back in service. In an exclusive interview with Air Cargo News, the company’s chief commercial officer, Konstantin Vekshin, said that as well as the four that were already ‘back in business’ a further five would return to the fleet by the end of the month.

That’s a good achievement for the airline, which, at the end of December, had only reintroduced one of its AN-124s. The airline has been conducting rigorous safety checks of its entire fleet following the crash landing of one of the type in November last year.

With air cargo demand at an all-time high, the grounding couldn’t have come at a worse moment. Vekshin told Air Cargo News,

“It was a mutual blow, for us and our customers … For us it was not about the money, it was all about safety and we wanted to make a timely call and look into things. It was important for us to do what we had to do.”

An-124 Volga-Dnepr
The An-124 is unique in the loads it can carry, including entire aircraft fuselages. Photo: Getty Images

While the airline’s customers had access to its other aircraft for shipments during the grounding, for some situations, the An-124 was simply irreplicable. Volga-Dnepr flies 12 of the type, alongside 19 747F, eight 737F, five Il-76 and one 777. The 747s were an adequate stand-in for the Antonov in some cases, but for others, particularly aerospace, only the An-124 would do.

The chief commercial officer noted to Air Cargo News that, for the time being, the reactivated An-124s would be focused on ‘sensitive’ shipments. This includes, he said, activities related to getting the vaccine delivered around the world.

Grounding the fleet

It was almost two months ago when a Volga-Dnepr grounded its fleet of AN-124 cargo aircraft following the uncontained engine failure of one of its fleet. The Antonov was flying from Novosibirsk in Russia when the left-hand number two engine blew out. The plane managed an emergency landing but overshot the runway, leaving it nose down in the snow. It was eventually recovered with the help of a tank.

Antonov An-124 airlifter skids off runway at Novosibirsk Tolmachevo Airport Getty
The An-124 crash-landed. Photo Getty Images

In the wake of this spectacular runway excursion, the airline took the decision to ground its entire fleet, to allow for thorough maintenance checks and inspections. At the time, Vekshin commented that,

“We want to be proactive and pre-emptive and demonstrate that we are a responsible airline where safety comes first.

“We have not received any official notifications or service directives yet, and there are no preliminary conclusions, so we have to suspend the entire AN-124 fleet with immediate effect.”

This cautious approach was well taken by the cargo airline. The incident in November had spewed engine parts over a wide area, with one part crashing through the roof of a warehouse. Luckily nobody was injured, either in the plane or on the ground, but it could have been a far worse tragedy.

Now, with checks undertaken, we’ll look forward to seeing the huge cargo planes gracing our skies and airports once again.