Friday, February 27, 2009

'Merchants of Death' flying around Africa

'Merchants of Death' flying around Africa

Dr. G. Busch - There have been lots of stories around about the "Merchants of Death" flying around Africa after the exposure of Viktor Bout and his capture in Thailand in an elaborate sting conducted by the DEA. Many of these stories are wild fiction, boy's own fancies and good bedtime tales for small boys. Some are true and some are just horrid. The recent crash of an AN-12 was horrid. However, it exposes a great deal about the hidden side of "gun-running" in Africa.

Two days ago there was a small note in the press that an Antonov-12 aircraft crashed and burned in Egypt. The AN-12 is a Ukrainian-made plane, roughly in the same size and configuration of a C-130 (the main Western military cargo plane). It is made at the Zaprorozhye factory in the Ukraine. Like the C-130 Hercules, the AN-12 is the workhorse of the cargo fleet and has been the plane of choice of many seeking a reliable and inexpensive plane to use which can land on unprepared runways and, generally, take hard knocks. It is ideal for Africa. The AN-12 is the plane one sees being dismantled in the film "Lords of War". A frequent use is the transport of arms and ammunition.


Many of these planes have been in use for a long time. Aircraft are made with certain rules which apply to them about the finite nature of their substructures. They most go in for checks periodically. There is a hour restriction on the engines which must be checked periodically and a certificate produced. The avionics must be checked. Most importantly there is a shelf life of the airframe, after which it is no longer licensed to fly and its airworthiness certificate is removed. 

The airframe termination is the effective death of an aircraft. In some conditions these airframes can be reworked and strengthened in a licensed factory which will renew the "resources" and the plane can continue to fly for a bit longer. Almost always, for AN-12s, this is done in the Ukraine at the original factory or at a licensed plant somewhere among the former Soviet republics. In any case the adaptatations and improvements must be agreed and supported by the ANTK Antonov Design Bureau in the Ukraine.

The AN-12 which crashed (registration number S9-SVN) was out of time. It was being ferried (without cargo) from Kisangani (Bangoka Airport) in the DRC, via a stop in Entebbe (Uganda) to Luzor in Egypt where it was supposed to refuel for the flight to Nikolyev in the Ukraine. It had been working for an Indian company (Service Air) in the DRC but had been given back to its owners, AEROLIFT COMPANY LTD on whose behalf the ferrying was to have been done. The owners of the plane are Viktor Zelenyuk and Yevgeni Zacharov, resident in South Africa.

For many in the air cargo industry the registration tells a tale of its own. The ICAO and IATA give abbreviated codes to designate in which country the aircraft is registered and whose authority is responsible for inspecting te airworthiness of the registered aircraft. For example the code for the US is "N". The S9 registration means that the AN-12 was registered with the aviation authorities of Sao Tome and Principe. This country has a limited ability to perform its regulatory tasks; indeed few of these planes on their registry ever actually make it to Sao Tome to be inspected at all.

The aircraft in question originally belonged to the Ukrainian company named "VOLARE," who sold it to Victor Zelenyuk (the owner of the South African registered company "Vulcan Air") and to Yevgeny Zakharov (the owner of the of the South African registered company "Aerolift").

One year ago the Russian crew from Syktivkar under command of the captain Alexander Iljasov, while landing in Kisangani, executed a sharp left turn while taxiing to the parking area and hit the right wing of the plane against the ground, during the taxing to the parking area damaging an engine on the right wing and buckling the right side main undercarriage. The local DRC authorities examined the damage and pronounced the plane not airworthy. In fact, the DRC Aviation Authorities suggested that they cut it up for scrap metal. The owners were undeterred. They changed the engine, patched the wing and reinforced the undercarriage. They then said it was airworthy. It continued to fly.

The principals of the Aerolift and Vulcan Air companies have a chequered past. According to South African and Ukrainian sources their track record is not brilliant. According to theim "Evgeniy Zakharov is ex- co piliot of YAK-42 air craft of "Volga" aviation company based in Volgograd city. He had very strong links with the "black caviar mafia" in Volgograd, who lent him money to purchase AN-12 aircraft. However, because they have been imprisoned for a few years Zakharov never been paid their money back. Right now they are free and looking for Zakharov in order to get their money back. That is why Zakharov keeps his profile low and is hiding. In order to avoid any contact with outside world he is living in South Africa where he feels safe."

Victor Zelenyuk is originally born and raised in the Ukraine, but now has South African citizenship. He calls himself the "Godfather" of ANTK Antonov Design Bureau and as per his declarations has very strong relationship with the secret services of Ukraine (SBU). He spent some time in a Zambian jail for illegal arms dealing with the ex-leader of UNITA in Angola Jonas Savimbi, when the UOTK's (Ukrainian National Avia Transportation Company) Ilyushin-76 aircraft was grounded by Zambian air forces while attempting to bring arms to Savimbi's forces.

The Ukrainians say that Victor Zelenyuk still owes some money to UOTK. When he says that he is the "Godfather" of the ANTK Atonov Design Bureau this means that everybody, who is operating Antonov air craft need to contact him to be able to extend the resources of the aircraft without unnecessary problems He is the intermediary with the ANTK. Recently, Zelenyuk and Zakharov both operators of the Antonov air craft wrote a letter to ANTK Bureau, where they described the condition, faults and details of all Antonov air craft of other operators in DRCongo except theirs, stating that all other air crafts were not airworthy. The DRC Government, on the basis of their letter, made the decision to send all Antonov air craft for extensive repair works or major overhauls

Victor Zelenyuk is a well-known figure in South African business. He was most recently in the news earlier this month following the death of Gottfried Rautenbach, South Africa's Madoff. Zelenyuk was a partner of Rautenbachs in a "bridging financing enterprise", which was called Danter Beleggings. Zelenyuk agreed to invest in the company which would offer bridging finance transactions to others and for which they would take 4% interest a month. When Zelenyuk didn't get paid for a while he had the company sequestered (put in receivership) at which point Rautenbach committed suicide. The question which arose was not if Victor Zelenyuk was a fool but where did he get the R10.5 million to invest in the venture.

The answer, for anyone in the air cargo business, is that Zelenyuk and his partner Yevgeni Zacharov operated cargo aircraft on behalf of ADAJET (previously ADAGOLD-Australia), a company famous for transporting arms around Southern Africa and dodgy ballot papers for African "elections". They are considered as giving African air cargo business a bad name.

These two were obliged to send their depleted AN-12 aircraft back to the Ukraine. They, however, did not choose to ferry this plane back to the Ukraine using their own crew. Either their own crew who knew the plane well refused to carry out this mission or the pair decided to take on an AN-12 crew which was sitting idle in South Africa awaiting the repair of their own aircraft which was delayed. At any rate, the hired crew (taken on without the knowledge of their employer) were promised that if they agreed to ferry the crashed aircraft for its owners, Zelenyuk and Zacharov promised to push the Antonov Design Bureau to ease up and approve the extension of resources on their own aircraft then being repaired.

The Captain of this aircraft was a highly experienced pilot and a decent and very hard-working person, a Mr Yuri Berdiev, who was considered the best captain of Antonov-12 aircraft in the whole African continent. They agreed to do this flight so that they could get back to their "own" aircraft and start working again. They had been without any flying work for the past 12 months.

Unfortunately the aircraft was is such a state of disrepair that it caught fire after refueling in Luzor, Egypt as it was taking off. All the crew died in the fire. It was a tragedy for everyone involved. The owners are alleging a bird strike but this has yet to be proved. This is a tragedy that didn't need to happen. Even if an exemption was granted to allow the plane to fly off for repairs, some inspection of its airworthiness must have been made before it is allowed to take off. To a large extent air traffic depends on the presumption of good faith and the knowledge that no pilot or crew are willing kamikazes. In this case, the crew didn't appreciate the state of the plane they were ferrying and the 'good faith' of its owners was lacking.

This will not likely be the last such tragedy in African cargo aviation as long as these rogues continue to operate in this manner.

linkThis article was first published at Ocnus Net

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Orient Thai 747 at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

Orient Thai Airlines Boeing 747 at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok by GorkonFL.
Boeing 747-146B/SR/SUD
Registration: HS-UTM 

Airplane maintenance company opens doors

LookAtVietnam – Vietnam Airlines Engineering Ltd Co (Vaeco), which will now be the country’s largest firm specialising in airplane maintenance, officially opened its door yesterday.

Charter capital for the firm totals VND420 billion (US$24 million), and it has received its VAR 145 aeroplane maintenance certificate to ensure operations will be adequate to meet domestic regulations.

Speaking at the ceremony yesterday, Deputy Director of the Civil Aviation Administration of Viet Nam (CAAV) Lai Xuan Thanh said: “Vaeco belongs to the development strategies of the national aviation industry in the coming future, because airplane maintenance is the backbone of the aviation industry.”

Thanh added that domestic airlines needed to have their fleets serviced and maintained by foreign firms in the past due to a lack of local capacity for this work. He also promised CAAV would give support to help Vaeco become one of the best technical centres in the ASEAN region.

Vietnam Airlines General Director Pham Ngoc Minh said: “Vaeco will provide technical aviation services for approximately 150 domestic aeroplanes till 2020 and also expand to servicing regional airlines.”

Minh added: “The domestic aviation market has been affected seriously by the global economic crisis. However, this is the appropriate period for airlines to upgrade the quality of their training, servicing and facilities to prepare for a potential recovery market in coming years”.

According to Vaeco, the company will be improving its technical system and will work towards getting certified at the international European standard which is EASA/ FAR 145.

The standard is issued according to regulations of the European Aviation Safety Agency for the aircraft maintenance sector, establishing the requirements to be met for approval for the maintenance of an aircraft and its components.

VietNamNet/Viet Nam News

Myanmar International Airline goes daily to Thai capital.

Myanmar Airways International (MAI) is to increase the number of days it operates from Myanmar to Thailand. As of 29 March MAI will be increasing the frequency between Yangon to Bangkok from five per week to a daily service.
In addition to Bangkok MAI operates scheduled flights from Yangon to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
MAI also operates a codeshare arrangement with Jet Star (Singapore), Thai Airways and Malaysian Airlines on the Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur routes.
Currently MIA operate two Airbus A320-200 aircraft capable of seating up to 180 passengers in a one or two class configuration. The airline leased a Boeing 737-400 from Thai based NOK airline which has now been returned.

Jetstar refuses to let wheelchair-bound man board plane

A WHEELCHAIR-bound man felt humiliated at a foreign airport when Jetstar refused to let him on board because he couldn't walk.

Glen McDonnell, 36, had travelled with the budget carrier from Darwin to Thailand via Singapore. 

But when he was boarding the plane at Bangkok for his return flight, Jetstar staff told him they were unable to take him home. 

Speaking from Bangkok airport yesterday, Mr McDonnell told theNorthern Territory News that he felt humiliated. 

"They told me I'm not allowed on the plane," he said. "I think it's very discriminating." 

Mr McDonnell, who was left paraplegic after a motorcycle accident when he was 15 years old, travelled by himself to Thailand on December 2 for a two-month holiday. 

His trip turned into a nightmare when he faced staff at the boarding gate in Bangkok. 

"I checked in my luggage and went through customs and all that," the psychology student said. 

"And then the station manager asked me if I could walk at all. I said no and he said I wasn't allowed on board. 

"He was quite arrogant about it." 

Mr McDonnell, who lives in Wagaman, said that he had to check out again and wait for his luggage to return. 

However, he said that after his "making a fuss" the airline booked him on another flight last night and gave him a $150 voucher for a hotel room in Singapore. 

Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway said while Jetstar Asia was a separate company, Jetstar was looking into the incident.

"We want to get to the bottom of it.  I don't know whether or not the airline is at fault here," he said.

"Our organisation in Australia has a very proactive approach to the way we manage customers who require wheelchair assistance."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thailand: Air cargo plunges by half as crisis takes its toll on exports

Urgent need arises to find new markets

Published: 16/02/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Business

Thailand's air cargo volume plunged by nearly half in January following the annualised fall of 23 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year as the deepening global financial crisis continued to sting exports.

According to the Thai Airfreight Forwarders Association (Tafa), total outbound cargo totalled 107,249 tonnes in the last three months of last year, compared with 140,074 tonnes in the same period of 2007.

Year-on-year export shipments started to drop in September before facing the one-week closure of Suvarnabhumi Airport in late November.

Inbound shipments also declined 25% year-on-year to 61,900 tonnes from 77,550 tonnes a year earlier.

"The January figures were worse than what we expected with outbound volume falling by almost 50% from a year earlier. This is partly because some shipments have been switched to marine services," said Kasem Jaliyawatwong, the Tafa president.

Even though air transport has resumed considerably since Suvarnabhumi reopened in early December, Mr Kasem said cargo volume had yet to return to normal levels because international tourist arrivals have shrivelled.

"Losing arrivals also means cargo shipments fall as they are buyers of Thai products," said Mr Kasem.

"Business travellers have also cancelled their trips to Thailand, possibly because they have postponed investments here or moved to other destinations."

Even though political uncertainties have eased since the new Democrat-led government was installed, confidence in the private sector for both Thais and foreigners will take time to revive, he said.

Tafa has almost 200 members including airlines that operate pure cargo flights such as Air France, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, Japan Airline, and All Nippon Airways (ANA).

Mr Kasem said February and March volumes could be worse due to the world slowdown. In order to spur export growth, the government should speed up penetrating new markets, namely Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics.

Flag carrier Thai Airways International (THAI) expects cargo revenue of 27 billion baht this year, level with 2008.

Cargo revenue makes up 17% of its total income. Cargo is loaded on all passenger flights to 72 destinations globally.

THAI, which is 51% owned by the Finance Ministry, has undertaken a feasibility study to operate freighters in response to the government's policy to expand exports of farm products and perishable goods.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hong Kong airport cargo drops 29 pct

HONG KONG (AFP) — Air cargo through Hong Kong's airport dropped 28.9 percent year-on-year in January, figures showed Sunday, the latest sign of how the global economic slowdown is hitting Chinese exporters.

Cargo tonnage dropped to 210,000 tonnes, the airport authority said in a statement.

Hong Kong is one of the major hubs for exporting items made in southern China's factory belt. Imports from Japan, Europe and Southeast Asia also suffered, the statement said.

Passenger traffic actually increased year-on-year in January by 0.2 percent to 4.0 million passengers, although the increase could have been due to the early Chinese New Year this year, a popular time for travel.

The number of visitors from North America and Europe saw a double-digit decline from the previous year.

The overall number of flights in and out of Hong Kong fell 2.0 percent to 24,245.

"The aviation industry is a reflection of the general economic situation and the declines we are experiencing... are largely consistent with what is happening with the global economy," Stanley Hui, chief executive officer of the Airport Authority, said.

"As companies continue to keep a tight rein on their business activities and consumers on their spending, drops in air traffic figures covering passenger, cargo and aircraft movements will likely continue."