Heavylift / Breakbulk
When time is money
Paul Furlonger has known the Antonov An-124 almost from its first hour, having worked for Ruslan since its inception in 2006, and hopes to stay until the end of his career. Longevity is a characteristic that well describes both the company and its services.
Mr Furlonger, Ruslan is now in its tenth year of active flight operations. How has the journey been so far?
We’ve achieved the first milestone we set ourselves, by deploying the Antonov An-124s of the two main operators – our parent companies Antonov Airlines and Volga-Dnepr Airlines – more efficiently. This means reducing maintenance costs, extending the operating lives of the planes and selling our customers as much of the available free capacities as we can. The second step is to achieve compliance with existing and future regulations for our aircraft. In the long run our final aim is to one day mass produce an improved version of the An-124.
Will your corporate results allow this?
Although we’re not immune to global economic trends, Ruslan has made a profit every year. Due to the nature of the An-124, peacekeeping missions have always been important to us. Their scope was somewhat reduced recently and our income declined in the last financial year, though we continued to be profitable. We expect that the combination of a gradually recovering global economy, the relative weakness of the euro and the low price of oil will lead to a rise in exports of high-tech industrial products from Europe, and therefore to a cost advantage for our aircraft. If these expectations prove correct our business is likely to benefit.
What are your plans for the coming year?
We want to strengthen our brand, expand our team and develop tailored solutions to better meet the needs of our customers.
Can your group speak with one voice at all? Ruslan’s base is in London; your shareholders are in Russia and Ukraine.
The current political situation has scarcely had any impact on our business. In any case we consider ourselves a multinational company, employing people of very diverse origins. Our global approach is a source of strength and encourages us to believe that there is always somewhere in the world where we will achieve success – despite the many crises.
What distinguishes you from your competitors? Do you even have any?
The only An-124s that were continuously commercially available in the last quarter century were those from Antonov and Volga-Dnepr, which Ruslan has managed for the last nine years. Other operators came and went. In my view this is testimony to both the high value of our service as well as the versatility of the aircraft itself.
One single aircraft is operated by Maximus in the United Arab Emirates. The Russian air force has a large number of aircraft, but few are compliant with all of the current noise and navigational requirements. In any case, they are military aircraft, and are thus not allowed to participate in most of the civilian invitations to tender that are issued.
Your heavylift customers come from a number of different industries. How do you meet their various demands?
One might think that a charter flight is a charter flight no matter what. But in fact we very rarely carry identical packages on the same route over a longer period. We’re convinced that the weal and woe of a project depend on whether we understand the customers and know their intentions, purpose and activities and also know why they chose to send their freight by air.
When is airfreight the right choice?
Air cargo services in general and oversized cargo options in particular are often a last resort – because of their cost, especially if the company concerned usually transports its goods by sea. The decisive factor however is the following point: It’s true that this particular mode of transport is relatively expensive, but it buys you time – the one commodity no one can recover. The cost equation is thus much more complex than a mere comparison of the price per kilogramme for chartering a ship or a plane.
What is the secret of the long-lasting success of the An-124?
There is simply no better, faster or easier way to transport oversized and heavy cargo from and to anywhere in the world. No other civilian aircraft is equipped with front and rear loading ramps, on-board overhead travelling cranes and its own winches. Except for its larger sister plane the An-225, no other aircraft can accommodate individual consignments weighing more than 100 t or measuring 6 m across and 4 m high.
In addition the An-124 requires less ground support than any other aircraft. Its ingeniously simple design opened up an entirely new sector in the airfreight market and is used by operators serving disaster-stricken people around the world. Since the earthquake in Armenia in 1988 An-124 mercy missions have given us the greatest satisfaction.