Air Transportation: September 9, 2002


The key link in the logistics chain for UN operations in Afghanistan is Volga-Dnepr Airlines, a Russian company flying mammoth AN-124-100 heavy cargo aircraft. No one has more experience than the Russians in landing and unloading at barely-equipped Third World airports, and Volga-Dnepr has most of the Russian experience. Destination airports that supply UN peacekeeping missions usually have little if anything in the way of air traffic control. Kabul is difficult, and Baghram is worse, due to high altitude and hot conditions. Baghram is surrounded by mountains and has no air traffic control. The AN-124s are equipped with GPD, ground proximity warning, and ground mapping radars. Even more important, the monster ex-Soviet transports have built-in 30-ton cranes, allowing them to load their own cargo from either the front or rear door directly into a waiting truck, something few other aircraft can do. This was crucial on the first flights into Afghanistan, at a time when there were no facilities at all to unload aircraft other than hand labor. Volga-Dnepr has been so successful as a company that it is funding a program to modify the engines on AN-124s to improve range and boost the plane's cargo load from 120 tons to 150. --Stephen V Cole


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