Volga-Dnepr Group : The ‘Wings of Russia’ that specializes on oversize & heavy cargo

Published: Monday, February 14, 2022

“When it comes to project cargo transportations, which are usually taking place somewhere in less equipped areas and airports, there are no better freighters in the world than An-124 and Il-76 as they are 100% self-reliant in loading and offloading thanks to internal system of cranes and ramp. That said, we do not need special airport equipment, as opposed to Airbus and Boeing planes, to proceed with effective loading/offloading of XL shipments and our experienced and qualified loadmasters are always here to come up with the right technical solution to streamline handling operations.” — Fedor Novikov, Marketing Director at Volga Dnepr Group

Volga Dnepr Group has been known to be the world leader in carrying unique, oversize and heavy cargo, successfully creating a niche market for the Russian airfreight industry since 1990, a year before the former Soviet Union disintegrated and collapsed.

According to the Moscow Defense Brief, over the past 18 years, the Group has transported gigantic excavators and yachts, missile launchers, airplanes and helicopters, elephants and whales, entire mini-factories, power plants, among other unique cargoes.

The main subsidiary of the Group, Volga-Dnepr Airlines, operates a fleet of 12 Antonov AN-124 and five Ilyushin IL-76 for international charter services of oversized and heavy cargo. AirBridgeCargo (ABC), another subsidiary, specializes on scheduled cargo operations while ATRAN Airlines focuses on short-and medium-haul flights. Together, these cargo carriers are known as the “Wings of Russia.”

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.

The airline recently completed a series of charter flights for over 12 million COVID-19 kits, in collaboration with UK-based freight forwarder JAG-UFS, the test kits were carried from Shanghai to China to Billund in Denmark with an average load of 72 tons per flight. The flights were carried out on behalf of the Danish government.

Amid the pandemic, the airline experienced disruption of scheduled operations and a significant influx of charter operations.

With 30+ years of experience and expertise in this area they were able to adjust to the current situation and guarantee intact supply chains to their customers worldwide. The pandemic has also served as a trigger to introduce more diversified product portfolio for their customers—scheduled cargo operations, charter cargo operations, long-term charter programs and ACMI.

As the market opted for longer-term commitments such product range was highly appreciated. Throughout 2021 the airline analyzed the market situation, and it became clear that customers are also interested in integrated logistics solutions through ‘one-stop-shop’ experience.

Fedor Novikov, Marketing Director at Volga-Dnepr Group, explains to Air Cargo Update the company’s unique role in transporting oversize and superheavy cargo, dominating the global market for this niche mission for years now.

Integrating other services

Volga-Dnepr has historically been active in the heavy and oversize air cargo market transporting unique project cargoes worldwide. However, amid the pandemic they have significantly strengthened their positions in such segments as healthcare and humanitarian prioritizing COVID-19 shipments over other projects cargo to help people live healthier and safer lives.

“When it comes to project cargo transportations, which are usually taking place somewhere in less equipped areas and airports there are no better freighters in the world than An-124 and Il-76 as they are 100% self-reliant in loading and offloading thanks to internal system of cranes and ramp. That said, we do not need special airport equipment, as opposed to Airbus and Boeing planes, to proceed with effective loading/offloading of XL shipments and our experienced and qualified loadmasters are always here to come up with the right technical solution to streamline handling operations,” Novikov explained.

Last year, amid the pandemic, Volga-Dnepr expanded its services to include a more integrated logistics solutions for its growing number of customers.

“In 2021, we have realized that our unique expertise and experience could expand beyond air freight and started offering more integrated logistics solutions, embracing first- and last-mile, warehousing, customs clearance, trucking delivery. These are the first steps but we have seen strong support from our customers and will follow this trajectory to offer value-added services,” said Novikov.

“However, Boeing 747 with its nose-door loading capabilities and wide side cargo door is also an ideal choice when we talk about transportations to more developed airports with sufficient infrastructure. This is especially the case for super long pieces, likes of pipes, or jet engines to mitigate AOG situations, or equipment for chip production,” he added.

Among its recent achievements, Volga-Dnepr has transported COVID-19 and ancillary out-of-gauge equipment, among them production line for vaccines.

Throughout 2021, the Group has also operated a number of charter flights with firefighting equipment to help nations in their battle against wildfires, transportation with satellite equipment to provide high-speed internet coverage, supported our customers in their COVID-19 transportations (tests, masks, vaccines, ancillary goods, etc.).

New logistics solutions

Volga-Dnepr Group consists of three independent airlines – Volga-Dnepr Airlines, AirBridgeCargo Airlines, and ATRAN airlines, with supporting businesses in leasing, insurance, MRO, trucking, and training areas.

The Group provides efficient integrated logistics solutions to the market by using its unique fleet of the ramp and non-ramp aircraft and operating charters onboard An-124, Il-76 for oversized and super-heavy cargoes, onboard Boeing 747F, Boeing 777F and Boeing 737F for general and special cargoes, including temperature-sensitive, dangerous goods, oversize and heavy, live animals, e-commerce; scheduled flights for all types of cargo in accordance with the existing network onboard B747F, Boeing 777F and B737F; and providing customized logistics solutions for oversize and heavy cargo, embracing all stages of the transportation process – consulting, design & manufacture of special loading frames, packaging advice, and support, organization of multi-modal services, obtaining of airport permits and approvals, ground handling arrangements.

The Group is constantly evolving its services to meet the growing demand for dedicated deliveries of healthcare, high-tech, aerospace, e-commerce, automotive, and other industries with a special focus on customized solutions.

“In 2021 we have decided to expand the scope of our services embracing integrated logistics solutions – first and last mile, terminal handling, warehousing, transportation, customs clearance, design solutions, etc. With more than 30+ years of operations, expertise, and competence, we feel positive that our value-added services will be in demand among our existing and potential customers,” said Novikov.

Cargo Supermarket Strategy

Cargo Supermarket is Volga-Dnepr’s unique concept which offer one-stop-shop experience to their  customers worldwide. Basically, it means that the customer could address with his/her cargo request and be sure to receive the most cost-effective logistics solution which might cover scheduled or charter operations onboard diversified freighter fleet (An-124-100/150, Il-76TD-90VD, Boeing 747-400ERF/8F, Boeing 777F, and Boeing 737F).

“On top of that, we complement our air freight services with Engineering and Logistics consulting which covers multi-modal delivery, customs clearance, warehouse management, design and manufacture of special loading equipment and other key logistics components,” said Novikov.

“This is a very competitive advantage given that in today’s fast-paced world, customers value time and having the ability to save it and avoid multi communication through e-mails, online booking forms, telephone calls, etc., is something our customers appreciate.

“Apart from Cargo Supermarket concept and a package of integrated logistics solutions we guarantee that we speak one language with our customers which means having local specialists with global vision and understanding. We have been expanding our regional teams, strengthening their knowledge as per industry requirements and current certifications.”

2022 and beyond

According to Novikov, the air cargo industry has been the bright spot and enabled uninterrupted supply chains amid logistics chaos of 2021.

“We are optimistic about 2022, although it is still early to talk about full recovery, which is expected to be reached only by 2024, in 2022 there will be 60%-recovery of passenger operations as they were back in 2019. IATA is predicting a rather modest growth of 4% growth of cargo volumes.

“However, we do not expect this year to be easier than previous two as we are still facing logistics challenges, but we feel better prepared today and have been able to adjust to the current situations. We look forward to expanding our scope of services embracing new areas, investing in new equipment and infrastructure, attracting new talents to ramp up our ambitious growth.”

He noted that the world currently relies heavily on air cargo operations which will be boosted by the following:

  • E-commerce demand which keeps on growing given closure of brick & mortar shops, restrictions in some countries on shops’ working hours, and overall changes in buying behavior as consumers shifted from offline to online shopping.
  • Demand for high-tech goods will drive the growth not only through increase in sales of work & leisure devices but also semiconductors and lithium batteries, widely used in electronic goods and EVs.
  • Lack of capacity due to slow passenger operations’ recovery.
  • COVID-19 influence with resurgence of the epidemic in certain countries, this might foster local PPE demand.
  • Vaccine distribution will stimulate high-quality cargo operations.
  • Demand for vaccine-related cargo – injection syringes, vials, production equipment, others.

For now, the “Wings of Russia” is busy hauling different types of cargo across all continents, ensuring that both its chartered and scheduled flights arrive safely and on time, as the world races against time to recover from the onslaught of the pandemic. Edited By Gemma Q. Casas

Volga-Dnepr: A leader in oil and gas equipment transportation

Volga-Dnepr Group is also known best known for its remarkable performance in transporting equipment in the oil and gas industry, both in Russia and globally.

Using its fleet of An-124-100 and IL-76, technical expertise and highly-skilled staff, customers are assured of timely delivery of their equipment, thus, contributing to seamless production of oil and gas.

Volga-Dnepr has already served all major oil and gas companies worldwide such as British Petroleum, Exxon Mobile, Shevron-Texaco, Calgary Overseas, Canadian Oxy Offshore International, LUKOIL.

A bright example of new technologies implementation for special cargo services is the cooperation between Volga-Dnepr and British Petroleum. In 1996, transportation of oil equipment to Columbia by the Russian airline’s aircraft resulted in the commencement of oil exploration there before the scheduled time.

Within a year and a half, 120 flights were performed for British Petroleum including high-mountain and hardly accessible regions with over 11 thousand tons of the total equipment dispatched. Such logistic solutions are new to the world aviation and industrial exploration. Experts said Volga-Dnepr logistic services allowed its customers to obtain material benefits.

Among the Group operations performed in 2007-2008 are the following: the delivery of an asphalt plant from the United States to Russia; transportation of a huge rotor (67 tons) from Italy to China; delivery of a power station (90 tons) from the United States to Kuwait. In 2008 the dispatch of a printing device from Germany to Japan was a new world record of a single cargo piece transportation (40 tons) on the IL-76TD aircraft.

Through the Group’s endeavors, An-124-100 Ruslan and IL-76 aircraft became part of the international logistics incorporating production units located across the world.