Cargo firms unite against ban on An-12 aeroplanes

Accidents prompt civil aviation authority ruling but companies say there is no evidence that technical faults have caused string of mishaps.

10 tons of medical supplies donated by the International Committee of the Red Cross ICRC are being loaded into an Antonov 12, Tuesday, Dec.30, 2008 in Geneva, Switzerland. The ICRC is sending the relief supplies to Tel Aviv from where they will be transported into Gaza. (AP Photo/KEYSTONE/Magali Girardin)
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Air cargo companies have joined forces to appeal against a decision by the General Civil Aviation Authority banning a Soviet-era aeroplane in UAE airspace. The authority last week ordered all Antonov An-12 aeroplanes out of the country by today, citing safety concerns after a recent string of accidents involving the four-engine turboprop plane. In a meeting yesterday with a civil aviation official, representatives of 14 air-cargo companies that use An-12s complained that the ban was unfair and said there was no evidence that the accidents were caused by technical problems with the planes.

"This is a claim that isn't supported by any particular document or evidence," said Alexander Smolin, general manager of Sky Support Service in Sharjah and a spokesman for the cargo companies. "This aircraft is as safe as any aircraft." In a letter to the authority, the companies said the incidents involving An-12s were caused by "crew mistreatment of the equipment". They said disciplinary actions had been taken "towards the faulty parties".

Aviation authority officials said yesterday that they could not comment because of an ongoing investigation into the safety of the Ukrainian-manufactured aeroplane. That was news to Mr Smolin. "No one has come to us about any sort of investigation into these issues," he said. Although the companies claim the ban is permanent, it is understood GCAA officials told the daily newspaper Al Ittihad it would only be a temporary ban.

Mr Smolin said air-cargo companies would have trouble meeting today's deadline to take the An-12s out of the UAE because they were under contract to such companies as DHL and UPS to make deliveries. Fifteen air-cargo operators here use An-12s to transport goods to Africa, the Middle East and South Asia frequently, from airports in Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah, Dubai and Fujairah. "A lot of aircraft here are bound with customers, with 80 per cent of these companies still under permanent contracts that have been prepaid," he said. "The operators cannot fulfil those contracts since they are being forced to leave the country."

"The number of people who are going to be affected will be more than 1,500 people, 15 airlines, more than 50 aircraft. We're talking about a decision here that will harm about 90 per cent of the air cargo market of the UAE. Airports in Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah will suffer because of this." International aviation authorities said transport authorities such as US Federal Aviation Administration typically do not ban aircraft types.

Instead, they typically impose bans on particular aviation and maintenance companies. Although they are banned in Iran and Sudan, variants of Antonov aircraft, including the An-12, are used in Africa and the Middle East for military and civilian cargo. They are inexpensive and considered by operators to be a versatile aircraft. The aviation authority's order last week referred to three recent incidents involving An-12s in Sharjah. It also noted a crash in Iraq last year, in which seven people died