Volga-Dnepr, Russian airline focused on special cargo transport, decided to suspend flights with its Antonov An-124 planes after an incident with one of them two weeks ago. The company has 12 aircraft (eight of which are active) and is the largest operator of the massive freighter in the world.

This week, Volga-Dnepr sent a statement to the Russian civil aviation authorities regarding its decision. The incident, which occurred on November 13, involved the aircraft registration RA-82042, which suffered an uncontained engine failure of its Lotarev D-18T turbofans as it took off from Novosibirsk-Tolmachevo airport in Russia. Upon returning, the An-124 ended up suffered a runway excursion- there were no injuries.

Despite this, Rosaviatsiya (Federal Air Transport Agency) did not determine the suspension of the activities of the four-engine plane while investigating the causes. The manufacturer of the An-124, the Ukrainian Antonov, also would not have manifested itself in this sense. Images taken on the affected engine showed traces of a bird, suggesting a possible bird strike.

“This is a well-thought through decision. We want to be preactive and pre-emptive and demonstrate that we are a responsible airline where safety comes first,” said Konstantin Vekshin, chief commercial officer, according to The Load Star website. “We have not received any official notifications or service directives yet, and there are no preliminary conclusions, so we have to suspend the entire AN-124 fleet with immediate effect”, added.

Volga-Dnepr jets An-124 alongside rival Antonov Airlines

The grounding of the An-124, however, is causing logistical problems for the airline as the fleet had several flights scheduled due to the growing demand in air cargo transportation. Volga-Dnepr said it is contacting its customers to rearrange flights on Boeing 747 jets from its subsidiaries AirBridgeCargo and CargoLogicAir.

Antonov Airlines

In addition to the Volga-Dnepr, the An-124 is used on a larger scale by Antonov Airlines, which also owns the only existing An-225 jet, the largest aircraft in the world. Vekshin considered establishing some kind of partnership with the rival, although he suggested that it also investigate whether its seven jets could present the same potential problem – Antonov continues flying its planes.

The Russian company is carrying out its own investigation, but is waiting for the collaboration of the Russian aviation authorities and also of the turbofan manufacturer, Ivchenko-Progress. With the capacity to carry up to 150 tons of cargo, the An-124 was originally conceived as a military freighter from the Soviet Union, but after the country’s dissolution it started to be used in special cargo flights. Of the 55 planes produced, just over 30 units remain active.