Uzbek crop-dusting operator renews fleet

Photo by Uzbekistan Airways

Unlike most other ex-USSR states, Uzbekistan keeps its special-purpose aviation under government control. The dedicated operator, Special Aviation Services (SAS), was founded in 1997, initially as an arm of the national carrier Uzbekistan Airways aimed at optimizing the mother company’s structure. At present, SAS has its own air operator certificate and a document entitling it to provide MRO services, both issued by the Uzbek aviation authority.

In April 2015 the company increased its fleet with ninth Mi-8MTV-1 heavy transport helicopter that was delivered under a contract with Russian Helicopters. SAS helicopters are based at Sergeli airfield 7 km to the south of Tashkent. The company uses these rotorcraft in a variety of roles, including for snow patrol flights and for carrying tourists to skiing resorts.

“The Uzbekistan Airways management is planning to renew the SAS helicopter fleet by buying at least one more Mi-8MTV-1 in 2017,” SAS Director Bakbergan Rusmetov notes. “Buying more rotorcraft is not feasible at the moment: our current fleet is capable of meeting the existing market demand.”

The operator’s helicopters are overhauled in Russia. In 2012, for example, the MRO work was performed by St. Petersburg-based provider Sparc. The SAS fixed- and rotary-wing fleet clocks up to 11,000 flight hours per aircraft annually.

The rest of SAS fleet mostly comprises of Antonov An-2 biplanes. The carrier has 65 of the type in different versions, based at Nukus (Karakalpakstan), Urgench (Xorazm Region), and at Sergeli.

The SAS An-2s are primarily used in agriculture as crop dusters, fertilizers, and cotton defoliators. The company serves up to 150 hectares of croplands every year. It also flies aerial mapping missions in the interest of the Uzbek authorities. The operator’s passenger-configured An-2s are used for transporting tourists to the country’s recreational destinations, including to the remnants of the Aral Sea.

“The company has no immediate plans to replace or re-engine its An-2s for lack of verifiable information as to the viability of crop-dusting operations with other aircraft types or with re-engined An-2 versions in Uzbekistan’s hot climate,” says Ruzmetov.

The operator’s piston-powered An-2 fleet is supported by the Ukrainian OEM. Since 2015, the original on-condition maintenance program has been supplemented by scheduled MRO services by Uzbekistan Airways Technics. Each An-2 repaired this way has its service life extended to 1,000 flight hours within the next three years. After the calendar service life has been exhausted, it is extended in year-long chunks (up to 1,500 flight hours per year) during the next six years. This work is performed jointly with Antonov specialists.

The biplanes’ Ash-62IR engines and AV-2 propellers are overhauled in Russia, mainly at the Moscow-based DOSAAF aviation repair plant.

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