|Hubs||Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport|
|Parent company||Volga-Dnepr Group|
|Key people||Viktor Tolmachev|
Volga-Dnepr Airlines, LLC (Russian: « «-») is an airline based in Ulyanovsk, Russia. It specializes in providing air charter services by operating a unique fleet of twelve Antonov An-124 (largest production cargo aircraft), five Boeing 747-8F 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. Volga-Dnepr Airlines serves governmental and commercial organizations, including 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. The airline also operates an operations base in Houston, Texas, USA at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
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). It started operations in October 1991, when it carried a 120-ton cargo from Amsterdam to Almaty.
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.
In November 1996, Volga-Dnepr began scheduled passenger service between Ulyanovsk and Moscow, using Yakovlev Yak-40 aircraft. In the following year Volga-Dnepr expanded its scheduled passenger service to include St. Petersburg and Sochi, as well.
Aviastar sold its 34% holding in the airline to Russian insurance firm NIK in 1999.
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. Kaskol later raised its stake to 49% of the airline. At the end of 2005, Kaskol sold its stake in the airline, due to its discontent with the company's management's strategy.
The airline terminated its joint venture with HeavyLift on 1 February 2001, with the stated reason to enable the airline to attract the investment that it needed to expand its fleet. The airline also set up marketing subsidiaries in London and Houston, Texas.
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.
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 AirBridgeCargo to be the key element in the Group's scheduled cargo services subgroup. 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". The dispute was resolved and the airline resumed funding production of the aircraft.
The airline began flying chartered missions for the US Air Force Air Mobility Command in 2003, eventually ferrying thousands of tons of vital military equipment to U.S. operating forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, the airline established a subsidiary in Houston, Texas that committed to make An-124 aircraft available to Air Mobility Command (AMC) in the event of a national emergency, qualifying Volga-Dnepr to bid for cargo charters from AMC and other US government agencies.
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.
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.
In 2007, Volga-Dnepr and its Irish subsidiary were debarred from U.N. contracting after it surfaced during the trial of Vladimir Kuznetsov, formerly the highest-ranking Russian diplomat at the United Nations, that bribes were paid to Alexander Yakovlev, a U.N. procurement official, and laundered by Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov was found guilty and Yakovlev pled guilty, and testified against Kuznetsov, for crimes of fraud and money-laundering related to the bribes. Both were imprisoned as a result. Mr. Yakovlev claimed to provide consulting services and billed in excess of US$700,000 to Volga-Dnepr in order to help them win tenders. The Office of Internal Oversight Services Procurement Task Force found that, between March 2000 and November 2004, Mr. Yakovlev received funds exceeding US$1.8 million into an off-shore bank account from Volga-Dnepr and ICT, a company working on contract procurement for Volga-Dnepr at the time. The report found that in actuality the sum received could be even higher, as the sources for substantial other sources of funds could not be identified. In a response letter to the report, Volga-Dnepr admits to making payments to Mr. Yakovlev, but insist Mr. Yakovlev was a paid consultant, and the company was unaware of involvement or influence over the bidding process. In the same period, The UN contracted over US$134 million to Volga-Dnepr.. The World Bank has listed Yakovlev and Kuznetsov as corruption case asset recovery targets for the Stolen Asset Recovery Initaitive.. As of 2019, following years of sustained effort to institute extensive measures (e.g., external annual audits and a strong Code of Ethics) to address and ensure proper employee conduct in procurement matters, Volga Dnepr was awaiting UN action on its request for reinstatement as a UN vendor.
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 annexation of Crimea, it appeared likely that the contract would be extended for yet another two-year term.
In early 2015, without notice to the company or affording the company an opportunity to be heard, US TRANSCOM removed privately-owned Volga Dnepr from its approved airlift vendor list together with several government-owned Russian flag air carriers. Despite a FOIA action which it eventually abandoned, Volga-Dnepr never received a United States Department of Defense explanation for its removal from the TRANSCOM vendor list. From the redacted reports obtained by journalists, however, it was heavily implied, but never proven, that Volga-Dnepr was blacklisted by the US military for delivering Russian-built fighter aircraft on behalf of Rosoboronexport to Vietnam in December 2014. Notably, during that same year, the U.S. Army took delivery from Rosoboronexport of the last lot of Russian-built Mi-17 helicopters (45 in all) which it had purchased for transfer to Afghanistan, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lifted U.S. sanctions against Vietnam.
In August 2015, Volga-Dnepr paid $11,250 for a speaker's fee for Michael T. Flynn's appearance at a Washington, D.C. event on economic security in the Middle East it co-hosted with another American company. Danny Yatom, former director of the Israeli Mossad, was also a distinguished guest at that event. The event was held nearly 6 months after Volga-Dnepr was removed from the TRANSCOM vendor list.  Because of Volga-Dnepr's crucial airlift role for the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, the company had become acquainted with a wide variety of senior U.S. military and diplomatic officials, active and retired. Indeed, a serving U.S. Air Force general officer who later served as Air Force Chief of Staff actually took the controls and piloted a Volga-Dnepr An-124-100 in flight during a mission to Scott Air Force Base. Mr. Flynn's appointment as national security adviser came long after Volga-Dnepr's removal from the TRANSCOM airlift list and long after Flynn's retirement. As the company later explained: "At that time General Flynn was a retired military officer, not a member of President Trump's election team, and his nomination as National Security Adviser more than a year after the conference was not a factor in his being invited as a speaker".
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. 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.
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 nine 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 considered an "air bridge" option to transport very heavy and delicate equipment that simply could not come to the site via the road. 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 (10,500 ft) in length and 45 metres (148 ft) 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 6000 tons of equipment and materials in the space of 103 days.
On 18 May 2020, a wrapped up for shipment, the first stage of the Atlas V rocket that will launch NASA's Perseverance rover arrived at Cape Canaveral aboard a Ukrainian-built Antonov An-124 cargo plane.
In July, 2020, Volga-Dnepr Airlines partnered with freight forwarder Geodis to complete 48 An-124 flights delivering medical supplies to France.
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.
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.
Volga-Dnepr formerly operated a small and little known passenger service connecting Moscow with various destinations (Ulyanovsk-Moscow flights Vnukovo Airport in 1996) 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.
The Volga-Dnepr Airlines fleet includes the following aircraft (as of January 2018):
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.