Russian Ilyushin IL-76 carries out Canadian mining equipment contract

An Ilyushin IL-76 belonging to Russian heavy cargo and logistics company Volga-Dnepr has been operating a month-long contract for Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation.

The heavy-laden IL-76 blasts off from North Bay ahead of a heavy weather front en route to Mary River on April 20.
The heavy-laden IL-76 blasts off from North Bay ahead of a heavy weather front en route to Mary River on April 20. Weather on both ends of the route has proven problematic, with several non-flying days and diversions on the return trip to Ottawa and Toronto. Andy Cline Photo
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The Ilyushin has been carrying heavy ore hauling mining vehicles from North Bay Jack Garland Airport (CYYB) in Ontario to Mary River Aerodrome, Nunavut on Baffin Island.

Tretan Inc. has been carrying out the logistics of the operation and coordinating the vehicles being moved. The ore haulers were taken to Orangeville, Ont., from factories in United States (trucks from Portland, Ore., and trailers from Iowa) to be dismantled and allow for the air shipping.

North Bay is being used as central hub in order to put Ilyushin in range of the distant northern mine. North Bay’s 10,000-foot main runway allows a heavy-laden Ilyushin to take off with a large payload of cargo and fuel, and lack of flight curfews allows maximum operational flexibility.

The IL-76 carried a cache of fuel in to Mary Lake ahead of time for the return trips to North Bay.

Upon return to North Bay after dropping off a load at Mary Lake, cargo is immediately loaded so it’s ready to go for the next flight. The Ilyushin arrived in North Bay on April 2 and started ops April 3. The 6,500-foot gravel runway at Mary River limits loads and weather problems on both ends have prevented some of the planned daily trips. Twenty flights are required to move all the equipment.

“The Ilyushin was chosen because it’s the only transport aircraft that can handle the large loads,” said Baffinland production manager John Dingwell. “There are no Canadian aircraft that can do it; otherwise we would have used one.”

The IL-76 being used on the operation is one of the newest. Built in 2007, it is one of a handful equipped with modern efficient and powerful Aviadvigatel PS-90A-76 engines. It is designated the IL-76TD-90VD accordingly, and is also equipped with a partial glass cockpit, ordered specifically for Volga-Dnepr.

The aircraft cargo bay is fitted with a complex set of gear hoists and electric hoists, designed for handling large and out-sized equipment without special land-based devices. This allows autonomous operation from all kinds of aerodromes.

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Over 960 IL-76s and variants have been built since the first flight in 1971. Conceived as a commercial transport, the lion’s share have been built as military and government transports, tankers and surveillance aircraft.

Volga-Dnepr is one of numerous commercial operators of the type, currently using five IL-76s, and also operates a fleet of 12 much larger Antonov An-124 super heavy transports. Volga-Dnepr is well-acquainted with cold weather northern remote operations. It delivers over 60,000 tons of outsized and heavy loads to some of the most remote and inhospitable austere airfields in the world every year.  There are no similar western-built, rear loading jet cargo aircraft in commercial service; thus, the Russian heavy cargo jets dominate this specialized market.

“We are pleased to be hosting the Ilyushin lL-76 at YYB to undertake a heavy lift program to Baffin Island,” said North Bay Mayor Al McDonald. “North Bay is well positioned and has the necessary infrastructure, including a 10,000-foot runway, to support these types of initiatives and serve as a staging area for the north. We look forward to continued growth in this area and welcome the opportunity to partner with industry in this regard.”

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