Heavylift / Breakbulk
“One company, two offices”
We met the manager of the Ukrainian aeroplane manufacturer Oleg Orlov and the executive of the airline Graham Witton that specialises in special transport tasks in a rather unusual setting at the Air Cargo Europe 2017 trade fair in Munich – at a stand modelled on the cockpit of the Antonov AN-124. The companies’ current scenario is at a crossroads – after the end of the joint venture of many years’ standing with Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Group, Antonov now wants to and has to continue its flight towards success on its own wings.
What a great stand you’ve set up here at the Munich trade fair, gentlemen! Is this a first in your time at Antonov?
Graham Witton: Thanks for the compliment – yes it’s a bit special, isn’t it? Me, I’ve been with Antonov for around 17 years now, almost at a stretch; in between I took an 18-month break for personal reasons. When Ruslan International closed I was invited to get things back into swing as managing director of Antonov Airlines’ British offices in London Stansted.
Oleg Orlov: I’m originally from the automobile industry. I joined Antonov 18 months ago, and first worked in the global service programme for our clients and partners. For the past year I’ve been vice-president of the Antonov Company, and have been entrusted with the task of making the aircraft-maker as successful in Stansted and Leipzig without Volga-Dnepr as it was with it. Antonov continues to operate within the Salis programme as the Antonov Salis Company. This is a challenging time for us, but together with our British unit we’re working away as if we were the members of one big family.
GW: I’d say that we’re one company with two offices. Antonov Airlines is the brand that we both represent. Almost the entire sales and operational team from Ruslan International stayed on with us, and we were thus able to place our activities in very experienced hands right from day one onwards.
So after the joint venture ended Antonov managed to do everything successfully itself, did it?
GW: Yes, but in actual fact this was already the case with Antonov before, if you remember. The joint venture only began in 2006, whereas Antonov Airlines had been active independently in the industry from 1989 onwards, and had already secured a significant market share. In some regions our presence was stronger than that of our rivals.
Now, after ten years of operating in a common structure, Antonov would like to be independent again and as quickly as possible regain the market shares it used to command. That’s why we’re here at this trade event, and will also be attending other meetings, such as Breakbulk Americas and Air & Sea Cargo Americas.
Let’s talk about your firm for a moment then, so that your (potential) customers can fully understand Antonov’s structure.
GW: The carrier Antonov Airlines is headquartered in Kiev and is part of a Ukrainian state-owned enterprise that has approximately 12,000 employees. That has always been the case and will always remain so. A part of the airline’s sales and operational activities are managed from the UK, however, as was already the case in the past 20 to 25 years or so. In some cases it is simpler to operate from here – in others, from there. So we have the best of both worlds.
What infrastructure do you have?
GW: There’s our offices in Stansted, and less than 300 m from this building we have a very large aircraft hangar, where we can load consignments directly into the aeroplanes – which we do quite often. The complementary activities could thus not be any closer together.
How many people work in Stansted? And what aircraft do you have available?
GW: We have a staff of about 25 in Stansted; but the whole planet is our field of operations. We have a very broad range of aircraft, including the famous AN-225, of course, the largest aircraft in the world, which can lift a payload of 250 t. We have seven AN-124s, two of them with the 150 suffix, which means that they have optimised characteristics, such as the ability to load larger payloads of up to 150 t.
Then we also have the AN-22, the world’s largest propeller aeroplane (80 t) and, coming further down the scale in terms of size, the AN-26, which can carry a 5 t payload. There aren’t many airlines in the world that can offer such a broad range of service. Or rather, to put it more succinctly – there simply isn’t one.
How is the modernisation of the AN-124 progressing? Or are you planning to produce a new aircraft?
OO: We’re constantly working on upgrading the Ruslan aircraft to provide compliance with modern international requirements. We’ve recently developed three new versions of the AN-124, with an increased operational payload, enforced floor of the cargo cockpit, modernised equipment, and extended service life. We’ve looked into the possibility of renewing serial production, but at present we aren’t able to do it.
Antonov recently designed a new model, together with Saudi Arabia (see page 14 of ITJ 17-18 / 2017). Is there demand for the AN-132, which offers a payload of 9.2 t?
OO: The AN-132 was developed in accordance with the requirements of our Saudi partners. They see high demand for such aircraft in their region. We’re working together to promote the aircraft, the prototype of which is being tested. The Saudi market demand for this aircraft is initially estimated at around 80 units.
GW: These tests are something of a showcase for the aircraft. We’re hoping sales will snowball thereafter.
And what about the biggest Antonov – does the market require another AN-225?
GW: The AN-225 has its own market, and of course we’d like to increase it. Though some customers are still scared off by the costs of its deployment, most of them are beginning to understand the 225’s advantages. One substantial plus point is the time it can save. Our task, amongst other things, is to make this unique unit for extraordinarily large consignments available whenever it’s required. If we succeed, then the question of making the second 225 ready for operations will also come onto the agenda.
Which heavylift sectors are key?
GW: The oil and gas industry, even if it has been a bit less active recently. Then there is the aviation and aerospace industry, in which we’re becoming an important element of the supply chain, as we’re able to cover most of the growing need for speedy transport services from the major aeroplane manufacturers, such as Airbus, Boeing and Embraer, to name but a few. The mining industries in Africa and Australia are further major growth markets.
Which of your projects have stuck most in your memory?
GW: We’ve set some records over the years. It’s been a while since we flew a 189 t consignment to Armenia in 2009, but at the time it was the heaviest single unit that had ever been flown. The overall effort, including the complicated feeder legs, are what make the task so memorable. Then there was a 182 t shipment flown from Brazil to Chile in 2016; the heaviest consignment ever flown in the Americas.