Russia puts end to NATO’s use of Antonovs
French military most strongly affected
NATO loses major Russian supplier of military transport aircraft
Brussels, April 18. Liberation.fr reports: The Russian Volga-Dnepr group has announced it will stop letting the NATO armies use its Antonov 124 aircraft at the end of the year, a blow for the Atlantic Alliance and for France, very dependent on these planes.
“We are gradually withdrawing from the military transport market (…) The group will not participate in the tender launched by NATO in its current configuration,” announced Volga-Dnepr in a statement sent to the AFP. Specifically, Volga-Dnepr will not extend the contract which expires at the end of 2018 for the supply of its Antonov 124 to ten European armies of NATO. This contract, named Salis, was extended every year since 2006, according to NATO.
In a statement, the Atlantic Alliance says “we have been informed” by Volga-Dnepr “that they will not extend their service beyond the terms of the current contract, in force until the end of 2018.” NATO says it “will work with the Salis contract countries to explore options for their air transport needs from January 2019.” The ten NATO nations benefiting from the Salis contract are Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The withdrawal of Volga-Dnepr is a particularly hard blow for the French army, handicapped as it is by delays of delivery the technical problems of the new A400M European military transport plane and very dependent on the Antonov 124 for its external missions, notably in the Sahel. In March 2017, a French parliamentary report highlighted France’s “heavy dependence” on its Russian and Ukrainian suppliers of military transport aircraft.
There are only about 20 An-124 in the world, owned by three companies: the Russian public group Flight Unit FU-224, the Ukrainian private company Antonov Airlines, which also supplies NATO, and Volga-Dnepr, which has the majority of existing planes. Designed in the Soviet era, the Antonov 124 has a carrying capacity well above the A400M, allowing it to transport helicopters or armored vehicles.