Monday, July 22, 2024
ANTONOV Airlines: A soaring Ukrainian titan

ANTONOV Airlines: A soaring Ukrainian titan

In an exclusive interview with Air Cargo Week, Ruslan Bykovets, Executive Director of ANTONOV Airlines, the esteemed Ukrainian cargo carrier, has shared insights into its remarkable resilience and adaptability amidst unprecedented global challenges. 

From the Covid-19 pandemic to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, ANTONOV Airlines has consistently demonstrated its ability to maintain a strong presence in the aviation industry while navigating the complexities of war.

Resilience at its core

Over its 35 years of operation, the airline has established a reputation as a reliable carrier, holding a leading position in the cargo charter transportation sector. 

Even with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, ANTONOV Airlines showed remarkable flexibility and dedication; using its specialist experience and high professionalism to ensure the successful transportation of unique oversized and heavy cargo. 

 “We deployed all our aircraft in the fleet to meet the demands of the air transport market, continuing to operate in an intensive mode around the world,” Bykovets stated, pointing to the technical capabilities of the AN-124-100 aircraft and experienced, customer-oriented team at ANTONOV Airlines.

Adapting amid conflict

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 introduced challenges many in the logistics industry, including those at ANTONOV, had never faced before.

When the conflict reached Hostomel Airport, ANTONOV Airlines had to act quickly. 

“The first missile strikes on the territory of Ukraine took place even before the beginning of the working day, so most of the workers did not come to the airfield,” Bykovets shared.

“Those who were already at workplaces were moved to shelters and evacuated from the territory at the first opportunity. Some airline employees were at Leipzig/Halle airport on a scheduled business trip and supported operational activities in the early days of the invasion.”

Leipzig/Halle Airport has been a supportive partner since 2006, providing a base for ANTONOV’s aircraft operating under a NATO contract. 

With the full-scale invasion, the airport authority promptly offered its infrastructure, allowing ANTONOV’s fleet to continue operations and maintenance from a temporary base. 

“Thanks to the coordinated work of all divisions of the enterprise and the high level of responsibility and professionalism of each employee, we were able to preserve all processes, ensure the decent work of the airline and fully fulfil the terms of contracts with customers.

“The fruitful, selfless work of the staff of “ANTONOV” ensured smooth operations in an extraordinary situation.

“The speed of decision-making has also become crucial in matters of ensuring operational activity, maintenance and crisis situations. A team working as a single organism is the key to the efficient operation of the company under any conditions.”

Despite the challenges, ANTONOV Airlines continues to serve a global market. 

“We continue to work in the segment of ultra-heavy and large-sized cargo air transportation,” the airline explained. 

The demand for transporting aerospace cargo has grown, reflecting the sector’s development. As industries recover from the pandemic, chartered air transport is increasingly used for quick logistics solutions. 

The airline also noted a significant increase in flights to and from North America over the past two years.

The loss of the AN-225 

The ANTONOV An-225 “Mriya,” the largest aircraft in the world, was a symbol of engineering prowess and national pride for many Ukrainians. 

Tragically, this magnificent aircraft was destroyed by Russian forces on 27th February 2022, during the Battle of Hostomel and Battle of ANTONOV Airport.

“Ukrainian defenders successfully repelled the attack of the invaders and made it impossible for planes to land on the airfield. Property losses incurred by Ukraine, including the unique AN-225 aircraft, are a renewable resource. The main thing is to protect our people, and we will gradually rebuild,” Bykovets stated.

With a length of 84 metres, a height of 18.2 metres, a wingspan of 88.4 metres, and a capacity of about 1000 cubic meters, “Mriya” was an unparalleled giant in the aviation industry. 

The destruction of the unique AN-225 aircraft during the conflict was a significant loss for ANTONOV, Ukraine and the entire aviation industry. 

An integral part of the logistics sector due to its higher cargo lift capacity, the AN-225 transported multiple record-breaking loads.

“This was more important than just completing the mission. For many of our clients, it was a matter of pride to order the charter of the world’s largest aircraft; it became part of the history of any company,” Bykovets said mournfully. 

Various plans have been suggested to rebuild the AN-225, such as securing the funds from Russian reparations. However, plans are on hold while Ukraine’s efforts are focused on winning the ongoing war.

“We are working for the victory of Ukraine and the liberation of Ukranian lands from the Russian invaders and the return of the entire country to a peaceful life. Having achieved this goal, we will be able to fully implement the reconstruction and development plans,” Bykovets declared.

Strength and strategy

In order to create continuous operational activity, ANTONOV Airlines has introduced a rotating system of employees between its Kyiv home and a temporary base at Leipzig/Halle Airport. 

“The biggest concern since 2022 is guaranteeing safe working conditions for our staff in Ukraine because constant shelling from Russia creates a constant threat to the lives of Ukrainians,” Bykovets revealed.

“That is why reliable shelters and safety rules of activity were created as a matter of priority because human life is the greatest value.

“We continue to provide round-the-clock services for our customers and keep in touch with our partners 24/7/365.

“The swift decision-making and teamwork of ANTONOV’s staff were crucial in preserving the airline’s operations and fulfilling contractual obligations with customers.”

Employees without whom the full-fledged operation of the airline is impossible, such as members of the flight crew, representatives of the technical service and other critical units, are not subject to being deployed on the front.

 “The entire people of Ukraine mobilised for the sake of preserving the integrity and freedom of our country. Among the employees of “ANTONOV” are also defenders of our state, serving in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Bykovets said proudly.

 “ANTONOV belongs to the state of Ukraine and works in its interests. Therefore, ensuring the uninterrupted operation of the airline is a strategic decision.”

Technology and collaboration

ANTONOV Airlines recently launched a new website, reflecting its forward-looking approach. The airline has development plans that include fleet modernisation and strengthening. Partnerships and collaborations play a crucial role in this strategy. 

“Combining efforts gives better results,” Bykovets explained, underscoring the importance of cooperation, with technology key to the future of operations. 

“We are modernising our planes and constantly improving the customer service system.” 

Digitalisation is a critical direction in this process, and ANTONOV is working with specialists to introduce effective solutions.

As ANTONOV Airlines continues to navigate through global challenges and conflict, its resilience, adaptability, and commitment to excellence remain unwavering. 

“We work on the international market. Therefore, in order to maintain our high positions, we constantly improve the customer service system, studying and implementing the latest requirements and standards,” Bykovets outlined. 

“We are modernising our planes. Without it, further development is simply impossible. Undoubtedly, digitalisation is one of the key directions in this process, and we are fruitfully cooperating with specialists in this field to introduce modern and effective solutions in the work of our Airline”.

Picture of Anastasiya Simsek

Anastasiya Simsek

Anastasiya Simsek started her journalism career in 2016 at Ukrainian TV-Channels: 24 Channel and 1+1 Media. Having worked across a number of different sectors, including news, medicine and lifestyle, she joined the Air Cargo Week editorial team in 2024. To share your news and exclusive insights, contact


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