x

Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

Ban on Antonov-12 flights lifted but conditions remain

A spate of accidents prompted the original action and operators are given warning that any unsafe practices will result in heavy fines.

The Government has lifted its temporary ban on cargo flights out of the Emirates using Ukrainian-made Antonov-12 aeroplanes. The suspension, imposed in January, was rescinded on Tuesday, the air industry was told. But officials at the General Civil Aviation Authority said they were prepared to take further action against operators of the aircraft if they found unsafe practices.

The suspension was imposed after a recent spate of accidents, and its lifting this week is meant to help cement the UAE's position as a regional air cargo hub. "We have sent a release letter to the industry and to civil aviation departments in the Emirates releasing this aircraft to operate in the UAE with conditions," said Saif Mohammed al Suwaidi, the director general of the aviation authority. The conditions stipulate that operators must present a letter of certification from the manufacturer, the Antonov Design Bureau in Ukraine, attesting to each aircraft's worthiness to fly. Official documents must also now be made in English; previously, Russian and Ukrainian were acceptable.

The An-12 is a popular aircraft used for cargo flights from the UAE to Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan because of its low operating costs and ability to land in adverse conditions such as on gravel or dirt runways. It is a workhorse for flights in the two-to-three-hour range and is commonly used by the UN and other organisations for relief flights. Local civil aviation departments welcomed the lifting of the UAE ban, but indicated they would have appreciated consultation on such decisions. "This is a positive element not only for Fujairah but at other airports because the Antonov-12 plays a major role in uplifting cargo at UAE airports," said Khaled al Mazroui, the general manager of Fujairah International Airport. "We would like to thank the GCAA for such a decision, but in future we would also like them to consider co-ordinating with partners."

There are believed to be 13 air cargo operators based in the Northern Emirates airports of Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah. On Jan 8, the aviation authority ordered all An-12 aircraft out of the country after local operators were involved in four accidents in the Emirates and Iraq between October and January. The worst incident took place in Iraq on Nov 13, when a UAE-bound plane crashed shortly after take-off, killing all seven on board. Cargo flights using the Antonov were involved in runway incursions at Sharjah International Airport on Oct 24, Jan 2 and Jan 6.

The aviation authority said it enlisted the assistance of the Antonov Design Bureau and the European Aviation Safety Agency to determine how to safely bring the aircraft back into the Emirates. Before the ban, an estimated 20 An-12 flights a day left the Sharjah airport. Abdul Wahab al Romi, the director general of the Sharjah Department of Civil Aviation, said flight-plan requests had already started coming in for the plane.

"We have received some requests for landing and we have told them to fulfil all requirements," he said. igale@thenational.ae