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Russian Airline AirBridgeCargo to Liquidate Its Boeing Fleet

The Russian airline AirBridgeCargo, Russia’s largest cargo air carrier, has begun returning planes to foreign owners after a two-year standstill.

AirBridgeCargo has already returned the first Boeing 747 to its Chinese owner, the lessor BOCA (Bank of China Aviation), reports RBC.

“On March 12, the cargo carrier AirBridgeCargo returned the Boeing 747-8 aircraft to the lessor BOCA (Bank of China Aviation). The aircraft with registration number VP-BIN took off from Sheremetyevo International Airport to Shanghai,” the airline said.

Russian airline will return the second Boeing 747 with the number VQ-BFU to the same lessor.

AirBridgeCargo previously operated three Boeings leased from BOCA. One of them was returned by the lessor in 2022 after the introduction of sanctions against the Russian Federation for its invasion of Ukraine: at that time the plane was in Hong Kong.

Due to the refusal of the Russian airline to return the other two planes, the Chinese lessor sued it in a New York court in 2023 and won the lawsuit. AirBridgeCargo was ordered to pay $406 million. The company did not specify whether the return of the planes cancels the need for this payment.

How sanctions hit AirBridgeCargo

By 2022, AirBridgeCargo was considered the largest cargo airline in Russia. In 2021, it accounted for 43% of Russian air cargo transportation or 639,000 tons of cargo. For comparison, in 2022, all Russian airlines transported less – 600,000 tons of cargo, Rosstat reported.

AirBridgeCargo operated only foreign Boeing aircraft. Its fleet still has 11 Boeing 747-8 freighters, four Boeing 747-400s, and one Boeing 777, most of which have been idle at Sheremetyevo Airport for over two years.

In 2022, the USA included 12 AirBridgeCargo planes in its sanctions list, and they were prohibited from being serviced outside the Russian Federation. Since May 2022, six aircraft of the Russian airline have been in it, the rest were removed from the list after the aircraft were returned to the lessors. All 16 AirBridgeCargo aircraft as of January 2024 were registered in Bermuda.

According to the results of 2022, the carrier’s revenue fell by 81% to 35.1 billion rubles, the net loss amounted to 13.5 billion rubles. after a profit of 53.9 billion rubles. a year earlier

As of the end of 2022, the ultimate beneficiaries of the company remained the founders of the Volga-Dnepr group Oleksiy Isaykin (75%) and Serhii Shklyanyk (25%).

As recently as 2022, AirBridgeCargo discussed leasing Boeing 747s to Etihad Airways and forming a joint venture using existing aircraft. But the agreement did not take place, because in the summer of the same year, Great Britain introduced personal sanctions against Isaikin.

In March 2023, AirBridgeCargo announced that it wanted to resume transportation using Russian Il-96 aircraft, which were planned to be returned to flights against the background of sanctions.

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