Volga-Dnepr grounds AN-124 fleet, Europe & MAX: its complicated

After a major incident in Novisibirsk, Russia in which one of the aircraft lost an engine and was to forced into an emergency landing, the Russia Airline Group (who own ABC and Cargologicair UK), have grounded their entire fleet of Antonov An-124’s.

The airline operated 12 but 3 have been parked up for months supposedly awaiting spares that are unlikely to ever materialise.

Maintaining the aircraft has been problematic for some time, with the Russian Air Force largely responsible for picking the three grounded aircraft of parts to fly their own. The Aircraft were originally manufactured in the Ukraine, not far from Kiev, and the Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine, which is still ongoing, followed by the demise of the Antonov company, has led eventually to this.

The aircraft range from 30 to around 16 years of age, so none of them are young, but they had one of the only commercially available heavy lift capacities capable of landing on remote runways, and carrying abnormally large loads like aircraft engines, because of their high wing, a military requirement.

The general feeling is that its likely the aircraft will never fly again. Even following an investigation it’s likely that cannibalisation for parts is the only forward path, servicing an ever diminishing number of aircraft, if they ever return to service.

However, rival Antonov Airlines which has 7 of the aircraft and is based in Kiev, Ukraine says it doesn’t see an issue and it’s going to carry on flying the aircraft it has, even though they are averaging 31 years of age.

EASA not making it easy for MAX to fly in Europe

EASA, Europe’s equal to the FAA has laid down a whole raft of extras it wants sorted before it will allow certification of the 737 MAX for European air space. It has far greater implications, as the FAA lost virtually all global respect for its certification process and most of the rest of the world is now waiting for EASA’s certification standards.

In summary, the EASA Proposed Airworthiness Directive mandates the following main actions (above those required from the FAA): 

  • Software updates for the flight control computer, including the MCAS
  • Software updates to display an alert in case of disagreement between the two AoA sensors
  • Physical separation of wires routed from the cockpit to the stabiliser trim motor
  • Updates to flight manuals: operational limitations and improved procedures to equip pilots to understand and manage all relevant failure scenarios
  • Mandatory training for all 737 MAX pilots before they fly the plane again, and updates of the initial and recurrent training of pilots on the MAX
  • Tests of systems including the AoA sensor system
  • An operational readiness flight, without passengers, before commercial usage of each aircraft to ensure that all design changes have been correctly implemented and the aircraft successfully and safely brought out of its long period of storage. 

Canada, Brazil and India are all looking towards EASA for guidance on their own certifications.