Russian airline conglomerate’s Volga-Dnepr Group has had an eventful year in equipment purchases and changes to partnerships, but the underlying strategy behind these moves is anyone’s guess.
Alexey Isaikin, an ex-Soviet Russian military colonel, conceived of Volga-Dnepr back in the tumultuous year of 1990, with the help of the government in the last year of the Soviet Era, resurrecting the recently retired Antonov An-124 military mammoths from their retirement and assembling them into a fleet of commercial cargo-carrying aircraft. Since then, Ulyanovsk-based Volga-Dnepr Airlines, the group’s leading subsidiary, has been solidified as the go-to carrier for heavy-lift and outsized cargo.
Not all of its dealings in 2018 went smoothly, however. In April, the group withdrew from an agreement with Ukraine’s Antonov Group, in which it provided An-124 services for certain NATO and European Union countries, due to a reported internal shift in focus to transporting civilian, commercial and humanitarian goods, and away from military equipment.
Then, in July, it signed a letter of intent (LOI) for a whopping twenty-nine 777 and five 747-8 freighters. “We are true believers in the 747-8 freighter. It is a very special airplane,” Isaikin said during the announcement at the Farnborough Airshow. “We fly it every day and we understand why operators around the world want more of them.”
The Group’s other two prominent subsidiaries, CargoLogicAir and AirBridgeCargo, are both undergoing periods of rapid growth. The former subsidiary is said to be the recipient of the twenty-nine 777Fs, foreshadowing potential network expansions, and the latter airline’s trajectory is no less exciting – it has been swallowing up trans-European cargo business. In fact, during the last five years, ABC has seen a 17 percent annual compound growth rate in volume.
Isaikin could not be reached by Air Cargo World for this article, but his strong leadership during 2018 has kept the industry’s interest piqued. The intent to purchase nearly three-dozen widebody freighters at Farnborough would seem indicative of some change in strategy, or perhaps a shift in trade-lane emphasis within its network.
In August, Volga-Dnepr signed an agreement with Henan Airport Group and Zhongyuan Asset Management to form a “trans-Siberian air bridge” as part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative.
“The potential advantages of Zhengzhou were obvious to us right from the beginning, notably its advantageous geographical location and the existence of the Zhengzhou Airport Economic Comprehensive Experimental Zone, which boasts a positive development trend,” Isaikin said of the agreement.
Could the focus of the Volga-Dnepr Group’s carriers be shifting further to focus on capitalizing on an East-West pipeline? Isaikin will not say either way. At this time, it’s still unclear how many of the freighters in the LOI will materialize, or to which subsidiaries the group would distribute the aircraft. But we wouldn’t make the mistake of underestimating Isaikin’s vision. Stay tuned.