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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Volga-Dnepr Presents New Ruslan

Heavy-lift operator Volga-Dnepr gave an upbeat presentation of its 10th An-124-100 freighter Thursday at Sheremetyevo Airport, hailing its delivery as a major step in reviving the nation's civil aircraft manufacturing industry.

Volga-Dnepr did not disclose the price of the aircraft, but Moscow-based independent aviation analyst Paul Duffy said the An-124-100, or Ruslan, could cost up to $45 million.

The airline, which is based in Volga River city of Ulyanovsk, has little presence domestically, but has about 54 percent of the global market for transport of super heavy and outsized cargoes. Volga-Dnepr's revenues last year hit $104 million, a $20 million surge since 1998.

Second to Volga-Dnepr is Ukraine's Antonov airlines with about 40 percent of the market. Antonov operates eight Ruslans.

After years of competition, the companies are edging toward a union for the modernization and use of the craft, said both Volga-Dnepr's general director, Alexei Isaikin and Antonov Design Bureau's general director Pyotr Balabuyev on Thursday.

"The market where Ukraine and Russia have advantages can be turned into a monopoly if we coordinate our efforts," Isaikin said.

Volga-Dnepr's prime advantage is its fleet of four-engined An-124-100 that can carry a 120-ton payload. There are plans to raise its payload to 150 tons.

The Ruslans have earned Volga-Dnepr customers such as Lockheed Martin, General Electric, the United Nations and showbiz clients.

The company works in cooperation with British HeavyLift cargo airlines, which markets Ruslans internationally.

The craft began civil use in 1992 and is credited with creating a new niche in air cargo operations, estimated to be worth $200 million annually.

Its closest commercial competitor, the Boeing 747 freighter, carries around 113 tons.

The new plane was ordered and produced at Ulyanovsk's Aviastar plant and was the first Ruslan produced at the plant in five years.

Analyst Duffy said the new aircraft is Aviastar's fourth delivery this year after the nation's aviation industry delivered just four aircraft last year.

"The new Ruslan puts an end to the stagnation period in the Russian aviation industry," said Karl Ruppel, deputy head of Federal Air Transport Service.

This is also the first major achievement of the airline with its new shareholder industrial group Kaskol, which acquired a 16 percent stake in Volga-Dnepr this spring.

The delivery became possible due to a crucial $6 million credit from state-owned savings bank Sberbank that was used to finish assembling the craft.

Sergei Shklyanik, Volga-Dnepr's deputy general director for strategic planning, said the credit was issued for three years at a rate between 9 percent and 20 percent. He declined to be more specific.

Shklyanik added that Volga-Dnepr expects another $10 million in a five-year credit from Sberbank. The credit will go toward the purchasing and modernization of another Ruslan it now leases from a small airline whose name he did not disclose.

Duffy said Sberbank's credit for Volga-Dnepr along with another $15.8 million loaned to regional carrier Sibir to help purchase three Tupolev Tu-204 passenger jets is a welcome sign for domestic airlines and craft producers.