Antonov Airlines (ADB, Gostomel) and German cargo GSA, Aircargonet, have formed a 51/49 joint venture Antonov-Logistic-Salis GmbH to operate military charter flights on behalf of NATO and EU states out of Leipzig/Halle, Cargo Forwarder has reported.

"Two An-124-100 aircraft will be permanently based at Leipzig Airport. Should additional cargo capacity and flights be required, the contract will cover this under certain rules as well," Aircargonet GmbH owner Klaus Lederer said in an interview.

The new company will start operating on January 1, 2019, after the current contract with Ruslan SALIS GmbH expires. The company is a subsidiary of Volga-Dnepr Airlines (VI, Ulyanovsk Vostochny), which announced earlier this year it would not continue to provide airlift capabilities for NATO member states beyond 2018, officially citing its intention to focus on civilian cargo flights.

"Antonov Logistics Salis GmbH is going to serve the needs of the NATO Support and Procurement Agency from 2019 onwards as an agency operating under the same rules and conditions as stipulated in the previous contract," Lederer said, adding that, at least initially, commercial cargo will not be transported by the company.

Antonov-Logistic-Salis will operate the aircraft on the Ukrainian Air Operator's Certificate (AOC) of Antonov Airlines. Alexander Gritsenko has already been appointed as the managing director of the new venture. The company structure has already been approved by both NATO and the German Federal Aviation Office (Luftfahrt Bundesamt - LBA).

Under the terms of the Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS) contract, twelve European NATO member states, as well as non-NATO members Finland and Sweden, have been chartering six An-124-100s from Volga-Dnepr Airlines since 2006. The aircraft chartered by NATO from the Russian airline are eventually expected to be replaced by the delayed A400Ms, although the timeline is uncertain due to certification issues with the Airbus freighters.

Prior to the outbreak of the war between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass area, Ruslan SALIS GmbH had been a 50/50 joint-venture between Volga-Dnepr Airlines and Antonov Airlines. Subsequently, the Russian airline assumed the full control of the company, while Antonov Airlines independently took over a smaller part of the contract.

For its part, Aircargonet has experience with organising military charters as it has been selling Uzbekistan Airways (HY, Tashkent Islam Karimov) Il-76TD capacity to the German military for services to Termez.