KIEV, December 24 (RIA Novosti) – NATO will continue chartering Antonov An-124 Ruslan heavy lift transport planes until at least December 31, 2014, Ukraine’s Antonov design bureau said on Monday.
The Alliance has been using six An-124-100 planes, provided by Ukraine’s Antonov state company and Russia’s Volga-Dnepr group, to transport heavy equipment across the globe by air since 2006 under the SALIS (Strategic Airlift Interim Solution) program.
“On the eve of the 30th anniversary of Ruslan’s maiden flight we have been informed that NATO has extended the contract on the use of this unique plane for strategic airlift missions in the interest of countries participating in the SALIS program until December 31, 2014,” Antonov’s press service said.
Fourteen NATO nations and two partner nations (Finland and Sweden) have committed to using the An-124 aircraft for a minimum of 2000 flying hours per year.
The SALIS contract provides two Antonov An-124-100 aircraft on full-time charter, two more on six days’ notice and another two on nine days’ notice.
Since March 2006, An-124-100s have performed more than 2,100 flights under the SALIS program, carrying more than 120,000 tons of military and civilian cargoes around the world.
A single Antonov An-124-100 can carry up to 120 tons of cargo, including ‘outsize’ (unusually large) cargo.
The use of this type of aircraft is crucial for the Alliance in light of the upcoming withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.