Alexander Kraynov, commercial director of Volga-Dnepr Airlines, highlights some of the challenges presented to outsize and heavylift cargo carriers.
The market for outsize and heavyweight air cargo requires carriers to create and deliver solutions beyond the capabilities of most other cargo airlines. For example, Volga-Dnepr Airlines’ fleet of 12 An-124-100 and five modernised IL-76TD-90VD ramp loading freighters are able to operate globally, including to and from the most remote parts of the world, offering special loading systems and onboard cranes and winches that make them virtually self-sufficient at remote locations, says commercial director Alexander Kraynov. This capability is supported by teams of experts that operate the aircraft and support them with their load planning and flight navigation expertise. And uniquely, the carrier also has access to the Boeing 747 and 737 freighters in the Volga-Dnepr Group fleet, he notes.
Although not carrying outsize cargo, Volga-Dnepr’s two seasons of IL-76TD-90VD flight operations to Antarctica – involving airdrops and landing and takeoff operations from an ice runway – also demonstrate the airline’s unique expertise, Kraynov says. “We have now operated to over 1,200 airports in 190 countries on seven continents,” he notes.
In terms of the global regions, the outsize specialist has been investing in operational hubs to enable it to provide its fleet and expertise on a local level. As well as the airline’s Ulyanovsk head office, which serves customers in Russia and the CIS, it has established operational bases in London Stansted and Leipzig to cover Europe, in Sharjah for the Middle East and Africa, Houston covers North and South America, and Hanoi is responsible for Asia Pacific and Australasia. Each operational base also has its own route planning and flight control centre teams to manage flight scheduling, traffic rights application processes, and communication with regional Civil Aviation Authorities. Flight and technical crew management will also be managed regionally, Kraynov explains.
“Customers will also be able to access the technical expertise of local Volga-Dnepr specialists for production site visits and for engineering solutions, such as the design and manufacturing of special frames to support the transportation of complex or highly sensitive cargoes,” he adds. “Local Volga-Dnepr engineers will also use their extensive knowledge to advise customers on the best cargo loading and unloading procedures.”
Long-term aircraft parking arrangements have been negotiated at the airports chosen as the locations of Volga-Dnepr’s operational bases, which “also allow Volga-Dnepr to more easily demonstrate the capabilities of its aircraft, loading systems and technology to customers in each region”, Kraynov says.
“This is all part of our ‘Cargo Supermarket’ service offering, which is designed to support the trends we see in the outsize and heavyweight air cargo market,” he continues. “Moving outsize and heavyweight air cargo can be costly for customers. Using our fleet, technical, and logistics expertise, we are decentralizing our business to make it easier for local customers to interact with our local teams, removing the delays that can come from having to work with people in different time zones.
“We are ensuring that all of the departments involved in processing a customer enquiry and responsible for offering the best solution are available at our operational bases and this will enable us to offer even faster response times. Positioning aircraft regionally is another important factor in this initiative because it will remove the need for, and cost involved in, long distance flights to deliver aircraft to the cargo loading site.”
The aim, not surprisingly, is to offer the best possible service and cost options for customers all over the world. “When customers come to us, we will consider their requirements and then look at the best ways we can deliver their cargo,” Kraynov explains. “Increasingly, this can mean using a combination of different aircraft or even a mix of charter services and the scheduled network offered by our sister airline, AirBridgeCargo, to save money.”
Kraynov outlines two jobs that highlight some of the challenges presented to outsize and heavylift cargo specialists – and the solutions.
The first involved the transport of a 70-tonne oil and gas stripping tower from Houston, USA, to Erbil, Iraq. “What made this An-124-100 charter most interesting was the fact that the cargo – at 38.4 metres long – was 2 metres longer than the cargo hold on the freighter,” Kraynov says. “Air cargo was by far the customer’s preferred delivery option as the stripping tower had a capacity to refine 40,000 barrels of oil a day and they wanted it to begin work in the Taq Taq oilfield in the Kurdistan region of Iraq as soon as possible. Every day it remained in the US represented a significant loss in revenue.”
The customer also had some other specific requirements that added to the challenge: the tower had to be transported as it had been constructed, without cutting it to reduce its length or removing any protruding pieces, so as to save valuable time and maintain the integrity of the tower; and the tower had no authorised attachment or lifting points on it – nor any loading technologies attached to facilitate transport or loading.
Volga-Dnepr’s experts designed two transport cradles, which were developed using 3D modeling technology and drawings provided by the manufacturer of the tower. The cradles allowed the tower to be loaded into the An-124-100 via the aircraft’s ramp and rail system.
Kraynov says the cradles also helped ensure the structural integrity of the stripping tower while in transit. “Ultimately, the construction of the cradles ensured that all transportation requirements, load bearing concerns, restraint criteria for G-Force restrictions, and tie-down requirements of the AN-124-100 were met,” he adds. The Volga-Dnepr team in Houston also took care of coordinating other logistical factors for the lift, including: trucking, craning, local police escorts, and general safety measures related to moving such a large piece of cargo over land to the airport for loading. “The tower was ultimately delivered on time in Iraq,” Kraynov adds.
The second example earlier this year illustrates another instance of how creative thinking around the loading challenges can make the seemingly impossible possible, and in doing so bring major financial benefits to customers that far outweigh the not-inconsiderable costs of the air freight operations. Volga-Dnepr came up with an innovative solution to help the Canadian mining company Baffinland Iron Mines increase its iron ore production quota in 2017 at its Mary River operation in North Baffin, Nunavut, Canada.
In 2016, Baffinland achieved 3.2 million tonnes of production and transport of iron ore from the mine to the port site 100km away. Much of the equipment already on the island arrived by sealift during the summer, but with ice having shut down shipping lanes, no further deliveries would be possible until late July or early August. Recognising the need to increase the size of its truck and trailer fleet, Baffinland turned to Volga-Dnepr for its expertise in moving heavy and outsize cargo as well as the ability of its IL-76TD-90VD freighters to operate to Arctic runways.
In addition to increasing its fleet capacity, Baffinland needed the extra equipment because the extreme winter weather conditions and harsh ground environment were causing its existing equipment to need regular maintenance, thus reducing its availability. However, the trucks were too tall to fit inside the IL-76TD-90VD cargo cabin, so Volga-Dnepr’s engineers set about finding a solution, working closely with the Baffinland team. With weather conditions of up to -50 degrees on site, plus the need for the new equipment to enter service quickly, it was essential to minimise the level of dismantling of the trucks in order to eliminate a lengthy re-assembly process on arrival.
A FITTING SOLUTION
Volga-Dnepr’s solution was to put smaller tyres on the tractor units for transport, reducing their height sufficiently to fit inside the IL-76TD-90VD. Volga-Dnepr’s team also worked with Ilyushin Design Bureau to address the issue of the short 2,000-metre runway at Mary River. And using the aircraft’s extension ramp equipment and onboard cranes also ensured the programme was self-sufficient in terms of loading and unloading, Kraynov adds.
“With all of the planning completed, including gaining the necessary approvals from Transport Canada, Volga-Dnepr commenced a four-week programme of 20 flights at the start of April,” Kraynov says. This included positioning extra crew in Canada to ensure the timeliness of the flight operations for the four-hour rotation from North Bay to Mary River and back again. Having extra crew availability meant meeting the delivery schedule despite two days of blizzards and white-out conditions during the flying programme, Kraynov adds.
Baffinland Iron Mines’ chief procurement officer, Sandeep Kumar, comments: “When we started the search for a solution, we were apprehensive of finding a workable and reliable solution in the short timeframe that we had ahead of us. It is to the credit of the Volga-Dnepr team, who provided us with commercial, technical and project management expertise through the process, to come up with a detailed and reliable plan. This gives us confidence of using such heavy airlift solutions should the need arise again.”