Air Transport World

Little big airline shop.

From the seeds of two line maintenance bases, VolgaDnepr hopes to build a network of maintenance facilities for Russian aircraft

This is a story about a little airline flying the biggest airplanes over big distances by setting up a little maintenance base a long way from the big factory.

Volga-Dnepr is the airline and the An-124 is the airplane--by many measures the largest in the world. Since 1991 Volga-Dnepr has made a living mostly out of flying very large loads that no other commercial aircraft can carry. Before the An-124, the options for loads like oil rigs, space launchers, very large engines and complete bottling plants was either ocean transport or disassembly.

The fact that much of this work is in Europe, North America and Asia created a logistics problem of getting to the only maintenance base for the aircraft, which was, after the Soviet tradition, the manufacturing plant at Ulyanovsk, now known by its commercial name Aviastar.

The solution: Establish a line maintenance base to perform all the standard functions needed to keep the airplane flying without having to fly completely across Europe.

Alexey I. Isaikin, general director and CEO of Volga-Dnepr, says, "The weakest part of Russian aviation is the service provided for Russian aircraft. Unfortunately, this has never been solved by the government or industry." Finding no easy solution, Volga-Dnepr decided to create maintenance bases where aircraft were operated.

Two sites were selected for their location and low startup costs--Shannon, Ireland, for the An-124 and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates for I1-76 and An-12 work.

So successful are these efforts that Volga-Dnepr is planning an expansion geographically and in the scope of the work performed, adding functions and aircraft, most likely the Tu-204. It is in this last part that Volga-Dnepr is butting up against Soviet traditions, traditions that long have hindered the spread of first Soviet and now CIS-produced aircraft around the world. In short, the design bureaus do not want to give up their power over major repair and alteration work.

"We expect what we have done will be accepted by Russian aviation authorities, and that other companies will use it as an example because proper maintenance is the most important thing for keeping aircraft alive and on the wing," Isaikin says.

"In this we are pioneers. I hope we are not pioneers much longer and we get support" from Russian government and industry. …

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