Russia's Volga-Dnepr Group is building a new hangar at Sharjah International Airport in the United Arab Emirates to expand its maintenance, repair and overhaul service capabilities for freighter and passenger aircraft. The new hangar, expected to be fully operational by January, will be run by Volga-Dnepr Technics division through its local subsidiary, Volga-Dnepr Gulf Co.

The maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility was established in 1996 in Sharjah and serviced Volga-Dnepr's Antonov An-124 and Ilyushin Il-76 freighters. The Volga-Dnepr Group includes Russia's top cargo carriers, Volga-Dnepr and AirBridge Cargo.

Initially, Volga-Dnepr Gulf focused on maintaining Russian-made freighters such as the An-124, An-74 and Il-76, but now it is keen to expand its capabilities to foreign aircraft as well. Besides airframe maintenance and repair, Volga-Dnepr Gulf supplies components and consumables, and sells aeronautic products and oils and lubricants for a wide range of aircraft.

“For the past two to three years, the volume of our work with Russian aircraft has been shrinking due to decommission of the aging fleet and the lack of production of the new freighters,” says CEO Viktor Sherin. The company was certified by UAE authorities in October to provide line maintenance for Boeing 747s (up to 747-400s), 737s (up to 737-500s) and the entire Airbus A320 family. Sherin notes that the fleets of these particular types are constantly growing in the Middle East region, while the two existing UAE-based MRO facilities—Emirates Engineering in Dubai and ADAT in Abu Dhabi—cannot fully meet the demand for maintenance services. The next step for Volga-Dnepr Gulf will be certification under European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) standards.

“The niche for servicing Boeing 747 cargo variants in the region is now in fact vacant,” says Sherin, adding that the 747-400 and 747-8 are the main workhorses for AirBridge Cargo.

The construction in Sharjah started because EASA Part 145 and local regulations require a hangar for providing A, C and D checks, says Sherin. The 20,000-sq.-meter (200,000-sq.-ft.) hangar will be capable of housing six narrowbody aircraft or two 747s at the same time. It also will include repair workshops for wheels, brakes and batteries, as well as additional space for structural repairs.

According to Sherin, the company plans to start performing A checks for Boeing 747s, 737s and A320 family aircraft in February or March, while the C check capabilities should commence by the end of 2013. Volga-Dnepr Gulf is not excluding Russian types. “If the deliveries of Russo-Ukrainian freighter into this region resume, we plan to become the center for their warranty and post-warranty maintenance,” Sherin says.

The new hangar will serve mainly third-party customers. “Only 5% of the work will be done in the interest of Volga-Dnepr Group carriers,” says Sherin. The UAE is the historical transit point for flights to Europe from Australia, Southeast Asia and Africa, he says, so many airlines welcome a chance to stop here for the A checks.

In September, Volga-Dnepr Gulf specialists performed this type of maintenance for Kalitta Air Boeing 747s under the airline's certificate. The U.S.-based cargo carrier signed an on-call contract with the Russian company, as did another Boeing 747 operator, Air Atlanta. In addition, line maintenance services are now provided for Pakistani Vision Air.

Volga-Dnepr Gulf plans to perform about 40 A checks in 2013 and hopes to attract 30 new customers within the next 1.5 years, says Sherin. “Everybody is just waiting for the hangar to be opened,” he says. The workload is expected to grow 35-40% in the first year, while the goal is to reach 400,000-450,000 labor hours annually, twice the current level.

The company also plans to open new line-maintenance stations in Dubai and another emirate, Fujairah, by year-end. In the first half of next year, it will add a station in Amsterdam to its existing European facilities in Leipzig and Frankfurt, Germany, as well. And opening a facility in Changzhou, China, is also being discussed, says Sherin.