|This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (February 2013)|
|Hubs||Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport|
|Fleet size||24 (+12 orders)|
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. Its main base is Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport (ULY), Ulyanovsk and it has a hub at Krasnoyarsk Yemelyanovo Airport (KJA), Krasnoyarsk.
Formation through 2000
The airline was established in August 1990 as a joint stock company by its major shareholders: aircraft manufacturer Aviastar, aircraft manufacturer Aviant (now known as Antonov Serial Production Plant), aircraft design bureau Antonov Aeronautical Scientific-Technical Complex (now known as Antonov State Company) and aircraft engine manufacturer Progress Design Bureau (now known as Motor Sich). It started operations in October 1991, when it carried a 120-ton cargo from Amsterdam to Almaty.
The airline entered a marketing agreement with UK-based HeavyLift offering the Antonov An-124 on the world cargo market. It became the first carrier in Russia, which was not part of Aeroflot, to start operations in outsize cargo.
In April 1995, the airline hosted a meeting of companies involved in the design, manufacturing and operation of the An-124, creating a Joint Coordination Council to plan and implement improvements for that aircraft model.
In November 1996, Volga-Dnepr began scheduled passenger service between Ulyanovsk and Moscow, using Yakovlev Yak-40 aircraft. In the following year Volga-Dnepr expanded its scheduled passenger service to include St. Petersburg and Sochi, as well.
Aviastar sold its 34% holding in the airline to Russian insurance firm NIK in 1999.
In April 2000 the privately owned Russian defence industry investor Kaskol Group acquired a 16% stake in the airline, of which the majority was from the Ukrainian state property fund. Kaskol later raised its stake to 49% of 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.
2001 to present
The airline terminated its joint venture with HeavyLift on February 1, 2001, with the stated reason to enable the airline to attract the investment that it needed to expand its fleet. The airline also set up marketing subsidiaries in London and Houston, Texas.
Shortly afterwards, HeavyLift joined its UK competitor, Air Foyle, which was the worldwide sales agent of Volga-Dnepr Airlines' Ukrainian competitor, Antonov Airlines, to form a new joint venture, Air Foyle HeavyLift.
In 2001 the Volga-Dnepr Group was formed, with Volga-Dnepr Airlines being its first company and the key element of its chartered cargo subgroup. In 2004, the Group created Air Bridge Cargo to be the key element in the Group's scheduled cargo services subgroup. Maintenance services in Shannon (Ireland) and Sharjah (UAE) operate as independent companies within the Volga-Dnepr Group.
In 2002, the airline suspended funding of an An-124-100M being produced by Aviastar due to a dispute between Aviastar and local politicians in Ulyanovsk in which the local government seized the aircraft. 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, saying that the airline was well known for having "a clear accounting system and good business reputation," and that it would move "from Ulyanovsk in order to preserve these qualities." The dispute was resolved and the airline resumed funding production of the aircraft.
The airline began flying chartered missions for the US Air Force Air Mobility Command in 2003. In 2005 the airline established a subsidiary in Houston, Texas that committed to make An-124 aircraft available to Air Mobility Command in the event of a national emergency, qualifying Volga-Dnepr to bid for cargo charters from AMC and other US government agencies.
In 2005, the airline and its Ukrainian competitor, Antonov Airlines, formed a partnership, Ruslan Salis, which signed a three year contract with NATO to provide strategic airlift services to the alliance's Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS). The contract was renewable through 2012, and required Ruslan to maintain two An-124 aircraft in a ready state in Leipzig, Germany, with an additional four An-124 aircraft available if needed.
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 competitor Volga-Dnepr Airlines under the name Ruslan International, building on their Ruslan Salis success.
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, and testified against Kuznetsov, for crimes of fraud and money-laundering related to the bribes. Both were imprisoned as a result. 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. The World Bank has listed Yakovlev and Kuznetsov as corruption case asset recovery targets for the Stolen Asset Recovery Initaitive.
In December 2012, Ruslan Salis' NATO contract was extended through the end of 2014, having previously been extended in 2008 and 2010. Prior to the 2014 Crimean crisis, it appeared likely that the contract would be extended for yet another two year term.
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. In 2008, Volga-Dnepr delivered Japanese International Space Station components from Japan to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The airline began flying chartered missions for the US Air Force Air Mobility Command in 2003, and opened a US-based subsidiary in Houston, Texas in 2005, further committing resources to Air Mobility Command in the event of a national emergency.
Through its Ruslan Salis joint venture with its Ukrainian competitor, Antonov Airlines, the airline has provided strategic airlift services to NATO's Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS) since 2005.
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.
Volga-Dnepr formerly operated a small and little known passenger service connecting Moscow with the various destinations (Ulyanovsk-Moscow flights (Vnukovo Airport) in 1996) 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.
The Volga-Dnepr Airlines fleet includes the following aircraft (at September 2013)
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.
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- U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York, Former UN Procurement Officer Pleads Guilty...,, August 8, 2005
- George Russell, Russian Firm That Paid $700G to Crooked U.N. Official Still on Approved Vendor List, , Fox News, March 15, 2007
- Claudia Rosett, Global Air Carrier Suspended in U.N. Procurement Investigation, , Fox News, May 3, 2007
- United Nations Procurement Task Force: Report on Volga-Dnepr Airlines and Volga-Dnepr Airlines Ireland LTD. (PTF-R006-07), 28 Jun 2007,, January 12, 2009
- Stolen Asset Recovery Listing, Alexander Yakovlev and Vladimir Kuznetsov,  World Bank
- "NATO to prolong leasing of Ukrainian-Russian Ruslan An-142-100 after 2014 – source". Interfax Ukraine. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
- Kibos EF and ELM-ES arrived at NASA KSC
- Volga-Dnepr orders 40 Antonov 124 (Russian)
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