Volga-Dnepr Airlines

IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded 1990
Commenced operations 1991
Hubs Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport
Fleet size 15
Parent company Volga-Dnepr Group
Headquarters Ulyanovsk, Russia
Website volga-dnepr.com

Volga-Dnepr Airlines, LLC (Russian: ООО «Авиакомпания «Волга-Днепр») is an airline based in Ulyanovsk, Russia. It specializes in providing air charter services by operating a unique fleet of ten Antonov An-124 (largest production cargo aircraft) and five IL-76TD-90VD (Stage IV) ramp all cargo aircraft certified for global operations. It is a world leader in the global market for the movement of oversize, unique and heavy air cargo.[1] "Volga-Dnepr Airlines" serves governmental and commercial organizations, including leading global businesses in the oil and gas, energy, aerospace, agriculture and telecommunications industries as well as the humanitarian and emergency services sectors. Its main base is Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport (ULY), Ulyanovsk and it has a hub at Krasnoyarsk Yemelyanovo Airport (KJA), Krasnoyarsk.

Volga-Dnepr AN-124 at Moffett Federal Airfield transporting California Air National Guard (ANG) helicopters to Afghanistan


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).[2] It started operations in October 1991, when it carried a 120-ton cargo from Amsterdam to Almaty.[1]

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.[3]

In November 1996, Volga-Dnepr began scheduled passenger service between Ulyanovsk and Moscow, using Yakovlev Yak-40 aircraft.[4][5] In the following year Volga-Dnepr expanded its scheduled passenger service to include St. Petersburg and Sochi, as well.[6]

In 1997, the airline joined with Atran and Atlant Soyuz to form an Association of Air Cargo Operators to represent the Russian cargo industry in negotiations with regulators.[7]

Aviastar sold its 34% holding in the airline to Russian insurance firm NIK in 1999.[8]

In April 2000, the privately owned Russian defense industry investor Kaskol Group acquired a 16% stake in the airline, of which the majority was from the Ukrainian state property fund.[9] Kaskol later raised its stake to 49% of the airline.[10] 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

A Volga-Dnepr Ilyushin IL-76TD-90VD cargo transporter at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

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.[11] The airline also set up marketing subsidiaries in London and Houston, Texas.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13] 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."[14] The dispute was resolved and the airline resumed funding production of the aircraft.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]

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.[19]

Notable missions

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 Kibo, the Japanese Experiment Module for the International Space Station (ISS), from Japan to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It is the largest single ISS module. [20]

In 2008 ExxonMobil PNG Limited asked Volga-Dnepr to assist in building a gas conditioning plant as part of the PNG LNG Project in Papua New Guinea, which is estimated to deliver 9 trillion cubic feet of gas over a 30-year period. Due to the mountainous nature of the terrain and 350 inches of rainfall a year this task was extremely difficult to accomplish using conventional means. Exxon decided to consider an “air bridge” option to transport very heavy and delicate equipment that simply could not come to the site via the road.[21] Volga-Dnepr specialists helped to design a new airfield in Komo to handle AN-124-100 flights by providing advice on the airport’s optimal location and the technical characteristics of its runway, which is 3,200 metres in length and 45 metres wide. In 2012 Volga-Dnepr won the tender to deliver equipment for the PNG LNG Project’s Hides Gas Conditioning Plant to the Komo site, and in 2013 the company operated 88 cargo flights carrying over 6,000 tons of equipment and materials in the space of 103 days.[22]

Military missions

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.[16]

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.[17]


Passenger operations

Volga-Dnepr formerly operated a small and little known passenger service connecting Moscow with various destinations (Ulyanovsk-Moscow flights [Vnukovo Airport] in 1996[23]) which were all domestic destinations along the Volga river. Service was offered using the airline's small fleet of Yakovlev Yak-40's to Nizhniy Novgorod, Penza and Ulyanovsk.[24]

Volga-Dnepr Yak-40 landing at Moscow - Vnukovo Airport


The Volga-Dnepr Airlines fleet includes the following aircraft (as of January 2016)[25]

Volga-Dnepr Airlines Fleet
Aircraft Total Orders Notes
Antonov An-124 12 3 [26][27]
Ilyushin Il-76TD-90VD 5 0

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. Currently, the company operates five aircraft of this type.


  1. 1 2 3 "Volga-Dnepr and the AN-124-100". Moscow Defense Brief. Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (1 (15) / 2009). Retrieved 2009-05-19.
  2. "Sibir targets second spot". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  3. "Volga-Dnepr pushes An-124 co-operation". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  4. "Volga passengers". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  5. "Volga scheduled". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  6. "Volga-Dnepr introduces first scheduled passenger services". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  7. "Volga-Dnepr leases Tu-204Cs". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  8. "Resignation puts a damper on Russian merger". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  9. "Mergers". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  10. "Building a winner". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  11. 1 2 "HeavyLift plans passenger flights". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  12. "Business booms for Air Foyle HeavyLift's An-124". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  13. "Volga-Dnepr firms up its scheduled freight plan". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  14. Volga-Dnepr in row with Russian authorities,, Flight International, October 22, 2002
  15. "Volga-Dnepr funds An-124 work as 747 plan put back". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  16. 1 2 "USA to expand An-124 use". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  17. 1 2 "Russian-Ukrainian partnership to provide An-124s for NATO duty". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  18. "Volga-Dnepr and Antonov join forces for heavylift". Flightglobal. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  19. "NATO to prolong leasing of Ukrainian-Russian Ruslan An-142-100 after 2014 – source". Interfax Ukraine. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  20. Kibo’s EF and ELM-ES arrived at NASA KSC
  21. Mainwaring, John. "Aviation Logistics: ExxonMobil's PNG Air Bridge". Retrieved on 17 March 2015.
  22. http://www.volga-dnepr.com/en/press-center/news/2689/
  23. http://www.volga-dnepr.com/en/about/history/
  24. http://www.volga-dnepr.com/eng/group/companies/profile/
  25. http://airline.volga-dnepr.com/en/company/company-profile
  26. Volga-Dnepr orders 40 Antonov 124 (Russian)
  27. http://www.aircargoworld.com/Air-Cargo-News/2011/09/is-the-born-again-an-124-ready-for-reconstruction/272278
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