x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Soviet-era cargo planes banned over safety fears

A widely used cargo aircraft has been banned from UAE airspace, amid safety fears.

The General Civil Aviation Authority has banned a widely used cargo aircraft from UAE airspace, citing safety concerns. A number of recent accidents involving the Antonov An-12, a four-engine turboprop plane, prompting the authority to blacklist the plane on Thursday. The action was taken "simply to ensure the safety of the general public and to keep the UAE airspace safe", an official at the authority said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The An-12 is a workhorse in the cargo business throughout the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe. Its range is more than 3,000km and it can carry a payload of 20 tonnes. About a half-dozen small carriers in the UAE use the Soviet-era aircraft to carry goods such as medicine and food to destinations in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. An estimated three dozen An-12s are regularly flown to and from airports in Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah. They are not allowed in Iran and Sudan.

A fax message sent by the civil aviation authority to air-cargo companies and airports on Thursday listed four recent incidents. On Jan 2, an An-12 veered off a runway as it was taking off from Sharjah International Airport. The authority's notice also cited incidents in Sharjah on Oct 24 and Jan 6. And seven people died when an An-12 crashed near Fallujah, Iraq, in November last year. Mohammed al Suwaidi, director general of the authority, said in the notice that companies using An-12s could fly them out of UAE airports by tomorrow after a "comprehensive pre-flight check". Some aviation companies said banning the An-12 would exacerbate business problems caused by the global economic crisis, and could cost thousands of jobs in several industries. "If you are banning around 30 Antonovs that operate here, you're talking about 2,500 persons here who are going to lose their jobs," the general manager of a small company that uses Antonov An-12 aircraft said on the condition of anonymity. The general manager said the new rule could force the company to lay off some of its employees. "It won't just affect us. These aircraft are operating on a daily basis here, and they are connected to many other industries that employ a lot of people." An employee of Aerospace Consortium, a broker based in Fujairah that negotiates purchase contracts for planes, said the ban on An-12s could jeopardise the UAE's position as a regional transport centre. "The buyers will move away from Dubai and the UAE as a base and transit hub," said the employee, also on the condition of anonymity. The employee said the company expected to lose money because of the ban, "but more importantly, I'm more worried about all of the people who are going to lose their jobs because of this". hnaylor@thenational.ae