Ukraine offers to provide NATO with cargo aircraft

Kiev (AFP) –


Ukraine's state-run Antonov Airlines said Friday it is willing to provide more cargo planes to NATO after a Russian company said it would halt its contract with the transatlantic alliance at the end of the year.

Earlier this month, Russian aircraft provider Volga-Dnepr -- a world leader in transporting oversize and heavy air cargo -- said it would not extend its contract for the provision of its Soviet-designed Antonov 124s to NATO armies.

The halt of the contract, which Volga-Dnepr had renewed each year since 2006, comes as tensions run high between Russia and NATO.

NATO nations have been forced to charter Antonov 124s from firms in the former Soviet Union due to a lack of their own own cargo aircraft, which has been aggravated by delays in the development and delivery of the Airbus A400M.

Under the Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS) both Volga-Dnepr and Antonov Airlines had provided NATO with up to six transport aircraft altogether.

"Antonov is ready to expand its cooperation ... and guarantees the provision of as many planes as are needed for the project," a spokeswoman told AFP on Friday.

There was no immediate comment from NATO but earlier this month the bloc said it was working with its members "to explore options to meet their future airlift requirement from January 2019 onward."

The unavailability of Antonov 124s would be a problem for France especially as delays the A400M has left it very dependent on the aircraft for overseas missions.