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Founded 1990
Commenced operations 1991
Hubs Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport
Fleet size 24 (+12 orders)
Headquarters Ulyanovsk, Russia

Volga-Dnepr Airlines, LLC (Russian: ООО «Авиакомпания «Волга-Днепр») is an airline based in Ulyanovsk, Russia. It operates scheduled and charter passenger and cargo services, but specialises in outsize cargo operations using the world's largest fleet of Antonov An-124 aircraft. It is a world leader in the global market for the movement of oversize, unique and heavy air cargo.[1] Its main base is Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport (ULY), Ulyanovsk and it has a hub at Krasnoyarsk Yemelyanovo Airport (KJA), Krasnoyarsk.


The airline was established in August 1990 as a joint stock company by its 3 major shareholders: Aviastar, Antonov Design Bureau and Motor Sich. It started operations in October 1991, when it carried a 120-ton cargo from Amsterdam to Almaty.[1] It entered a marketing agreement with UK-based HeavyLift offering the Antonov An-124 on the world cargo market, but this has now ceased. It became the first carrier in Russia, which was not part of Aeroflot, to start operations in outsize cargo. In April 2000 the privately owned Russian defence industry investor Kaskol acquired a 48% stake later bringing it up to 50% in the airline. At the end of 2005, KASKOL sold its stake in the airline, due to its discontent with the company's management's strategy.

Volga-Dnepr is in a group of 11 companies. In 2004 a new cargo subsidiary called AirBridge Cargo was established to provide scheduled cargo services worldwide.

Maintenance services in Shannon (Ireland) and Sharjah (UAE) operate as independent companies under the Volga-Dnepr group.

Antonov Airlines terminated its joint venture with Air Foyle Heavylift on 30 June 2006 to allow it to pursue a joint marketing venture with its erstwhile competitor Volga-Dnepr under the name Ruslan International,[2][3] in which it has a 50% stake.

According to Moscow Defense Brief, the company has over the past 18 years transported gigantic excavators and yachts, missile launchers, airplanes and helicopters, elephants and whales, entire mini-factories and power plants, the latest release of Beaujolais Nouveau wine, and unique museum collections. Deliveries of equipment for the heavy machine building, oil and gas and aerospace sectors are most in demand.[1] In 2008, Volga-Dnepr delivered Japanese International Space Station components from Japan to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.[4]

Corrupt Practices

In 2002, Volga-Dnepr suspended funding of the An-124-100M at Aviastar due to a dispute with local politicians in Ulyanovsk. According to Volga-Dnepr, the founder of Aviastar refused to bribe local politicians and businessmen to secure their cooperation. Volga-Dnepr threatened to move its headquarters from Ulyanovsk at the time.[5]

In 2007, Volga-Dnepr and its Irish subsidiary were barred from U.N. contracting after it surfaced during the trial of Vladimir Kuznetsov, formerly the highest-ranking Russian diplomat at the United Nations, that bribes were paid to Alexander Yakovlev, a U.N. procurement official, and laundered by Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov was found guilty and Yakovlev pled guilty,[6] and testified against Kuznetsov, for crimes of fraud and money-laundering related to the bribes. Both were imprisoned as a result.[7][8] Mr. Yakovlev provided "consulting" services and billed in excess of $700,000 USD to Volga-Dnepr in order to help them win tenders. The UN contracted over $134 million USD to Volga-Dnepr during the period.[9] The World Bank has listed Yakovlev and Kuznetsov as corruption case asset recovery targets for the Stolen Asset Recovery Initaitive.[10]

Arms Transport & Trafficking

Volga-Dnepr is known to fly arms for various governmental and non-governmental clients, as recently described in "The Arms Flyers. Commercial Aviation, Human Rights, and the Business of War and Arms".[11][12] The company is also known to deliver military cargo for the US Armed Forces.[13] On June 3, 2009, two Volga-Dnepr aircraft were detained in the UAE while transporting U.S. arms and personnel. Eventually U.S. owned C-17 aircraft were required to transport the cargo and passengers to their final destination in Afghanistan. The U.S. diplomatic cable on the incident revealed that the U.S. OFAC had interest in Volga-Dnepr due to links to international arms trafficker Viktor Bout.[14][15] The British Government confirmed these links in response to a Freedom of information request related to Ministry of Defence (MoD) use of airlines linked to Viktor Bout in which they included Volga Dnepr, confirming 2 chartered MoD flights on the 7th and 8 March 2005, in their response.[16]

Volga-Dnepr provides Air Transport Capability to NATO via the SALIS contract arranged by the NATO Support Agency in Capellen, Luxembourg.[17][18] In April 2012, Sergei Morozov, the governor of Ulyanovsk, the home town of Volga-Dnepr, stated that Volga-Dnepr will profit handsomely from NATO contracts with the Afghan draw-down.[19] Alexander Grushko, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, has also expressed hope that NATO will use Volga-Dnepr to transport their material out of Afghanistan.[20] The contract has been controversial in both Russia and in NATO countries, for political reasons and financial reasons, with Russians complaining of a sell out to NATO and NATO nations complaining of price gouging by Volga-Dnepr.[21][22] Under the SALIS agreement, NATO is required to pay roughly $33,000 USD per flying hour, with a single mission to Afghanistan costing $250,000 USD for the An-124 charter.[23] The NATO SALIS contract is agreed to remain in place until December 31, 2014.[24]


Heavy lift operations

Scheduled Cargo operations

AirBridgeCargo Airlines (ABC) is in charge of scheduled freight operations within Volga-Dnepr Group. Set up in 2004, the company was the first Russian cargo airline to operate Boeing 747 freighters. The current ABC fleet includes 12 Boeing 747 (eight B747-400F and four B-747-8F). Among its key clients are leading worldwide freight forwarders such as Panalpina, DHL, CITS, Nippon Express, CEVA, UTi, Schenker, Dachser, UCS, and Hellmann.

Passenger operations

Volga-Dnepr formerly operated a small and little known passenger service connecting Moscow with the various destinations (Ulyanovsk-Moscow flights (Vnukovo Airport) in 1996[25]) which at March 2006 were all Domestic destinations along the Volga river, with service offered using the airline's small fleet of Yakovlev Yak-40, 40 seat aircraft: Nizhniy Novgorod, Penza and Ulyanovsk.[26]


The Volga-Dnepr Airlines fleet includes the following aircraft (at September 2013)

Volga-Dnepr Airlines Fleet
Aircraft Total Orders Notes
Antonov An-124 10 40 [27][28]
Ilyushin Il-76TD-90VD 5 0
Total 15 40

The airline's first upgraded Ilyushin Il-76TD-90VD, fitted with Stage IV compliant PS90 engines, was delivered in June 2006 and has been heavily used on cargo charter flights to Europe, North America, Australia, and Japan, from where the freighter had previously been banned due to stringent changes in environmental and noise legislation. A second upgraded aircraft was delivered in late 2007. By the end of 2011 company had four upgraded aircraft and has an order for one more.


External links

  • Volga-Dnepr Group
  • Volga-Dnepr Airlines
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