East & West

Rus Aviation has developed a strong business flying to Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, however, the company is eyeing flights to China and Western Europe.

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By  Neil Denslow Published  May 5, 2005

|~||~||~|Rus Aviation has become one of the largest charter cargo carriers in the Middle East since it moved its operations from Russia to Sharjah in 1999. Then the company had a fleet of just four aircraft, but it now operates 13 Russian-made planes, and will soon be managing another seven following the recent signing of a deal with Iraqi-based Click Airways. The company’s growth has been driven by serving the Iraqi and Afghanistan markets; however, it is now looking further afield for business, including the launch of services to China and Western Europe. When Rus Aviation made the move to Sharjah it had two Ilyushin IL-18 and two Antonov An-12s, which primarily served Russia and countries in the CIS. The company made the switch to the UAE from Russia, as it wanted to leverage on the county’s business-friendly environment and advantageous geography to further grow the business. “There is big support from the government to do business here,” comments Saleh Al-Aroud, general manager, Rus Aviation. “Secondly, the UAE is in the heart of the Middle East, so it is near to Afghanistan and Iraq.” The company flies from all of the airports in the UAE, and it also has services from Kuwait, Jordan and across the region. However, Sharjah was chosen as the hub for the operation because of its strong cargo facilities and quick handling times. “All of the airports in the UAE provide good handling facilities,” says Al-Aroud. “However, Sharjah Airport is not so big, and it is not complicated, so it is easy to operate cargo. If you have a transhipment, for instance, it takes only two hours to clear it and then load it onto another aircraft. At other airports it would take 12-14 hours,” he comments. Most of the loads that Rus Aviation is carrying now are going to Iraq and Afghanistan, which account for about 50% of its operations. The company sends at least one flight a day to Afghanistan and around four a day to Iraq, with the majority of the loads being vehicles and other equipment needed for the reconstruction efforts. The operator hit a peak in January, when 179 flights were flown to Iraq in period of just 15 days. Flying to these countries is clearly a somewhat risky business, and the company has to pay a high price to insure its planes and crew. However, bureaucratically, it is less of a challenge than flying to some other countries in the region and elsewhere. “We are receiving good support from the RMCC [Regional Movement Control Centre] people,” says Al-Aroud. “When we file the permissions they are very co-operative and they always give the permissions very quickly.” The company has mainly flown charter flights into these countries so far, but it is now also offering a scheduled service using consolidation facilities in Sharjah. “There was a demand for an airline to operate scheduled services, so we approached our principals and they started the flights,” says Al-Aroud. “We are presently doing twice-weekly flights to Iraq — but this will soon go up to four times a week — and we are planning to start daily flights to Afghanistan by the middle of May,” he adds. The strong demand for cargo capacity into Iraq and Afghanistan is one of the key factors that has enabled Rus Aviation to quickly grow its operations. The company’s fleet has grown from four planes in 1999 to now comprise nine IL-76s and four An-12s, all of which are leased on ACMI basis from operators in Russia and the CIS. This arrangement helps cuts costs for the company and also spares it from the headaches associated with owning planes. The company has recently expanded its fleet in this way by becoming the GSA for Click Airways, which operates four IL-76s and three An-12s. “Recently we have signed an agreement with them to handle their commercial department. We will be doing consultations for them, plus we will be handling all types of commercial agreements on their behalf,” explains Al-Aroud. “We have already started on arranging some interline deals for them,” he adds. These extra aircraft will help Rus Aviation as it looks to push into new markets. In particular, the company is focusing on the Eastern European market, as well as looking to benefit from the boom in air cargo out of China. “We are trying to increase our operations between Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and by the middle of May we will start operations to China,” says Al-Aroud. “We have received permissions for a few flights and we are now going through the procedures to get flights on a regular basis… The Chinese market is really big and there is more than enough space for everyone to work there,” he adds. ||**|||~||~||~|The company is also targeting Africa, and it has already operated a number of aid flights into Sudan, for instance, as well as regularly carrying fish, fruits and other perishable items into Europe. “We are focusing now on the African market, as this is one of the best ways to get into Europe,” says Al-Aroud. At present though, the company can only operate flights into Eastern Europe, as its planes do not meet noise restriction regulations in Western Europe. This means that while Rus Aviation can handle some humanitarian flights, it is unable to carry commercial loads to half of the continent. As such, the company is planning to buy at least two Western-made aircraft, either L10-11s or DC-10s, by the end of the year, which would then allow it to serve these markets. “We have plans now to get two Western aircraft to serve Western Europe,” says Al-Aroud. “We are already in negotiations with some companies to purchase aircraft, but I think it will take six months.” To support this move into Western Europe, the company is also planning to open offices in London, Paris and Spain, as well as appointing agents there. “We also already have customers there from when the IL-76 was allowed into Europe,” adds Al-Aroud. These Western aircraft will allow Rus Aviation to resume services for these clients, and Al-Aroud predicts that in the longer run they may also prove necessary for serving the company’s existing customers in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. “In going for the Western aircraft, we are getting ourselves prepared for the future, as I think there will one day be noise restrictions in the entire region, and, of course, we will have to keep on flying then,” he says.||**||

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