This year’s challenging trade environment and the subsequent decline in air cargo transportation demand has had a major impact on Russian airline Volga-Dnepr Airlines, which along with AirBridgeCargo and Atran, falls under the Volga-Dnepr Group umbrella. Russian Aviation Insider reported on Wednesday that in response to the difficult market, Volga-Dnepr Airlines was forced to make unplanned staffing and capacity cuts.
The cuts to staff are expected to affect about 100 of the airline’s 1,500 employees. In addition to reducing the number of employees, Volga-Dnepr Airlines will also significantly reduce its fleet of 12 An-124 freighters, which are specialized for the transport of heavy and oversized cargo. The publication reported the airline reduced its An-124 fleet to eight aircraft and will store two more of the type, leaving only six in operation and making Ukrainian carrier Antonov Airlines the world’s largest operator of the type.
Although the very large An-124 aircraft is expensive to operate, the type has been in demand during the second half of 2019 for the transport of engines between Ohio and Washington in support of Boeing’s various commercial aircraft production lines. Only yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved Volga-Dnepr Airlines to operate 10 one-way charters for GE Aviation from Columbus Rickenbacker Airport (LCK) between Oct. 28 and Nov. 26.
Still, in recent years Volga-Dnepr had reduced its contractual operations using the An-124s. In April 2018, it was reported that the airline was withdrawing from the Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS) agreement, under which it and Antonov Airlines provided charter service for NATO and European Union countries using An-124s. At the time, the airline had said it was shifting its transportation focus from military equipment to civilian, commercial and humanitarian goods. The current market environment appears to have reduced the demand for these types of shipments using the oversized cargo-enabled aircraft.