Air show mix-up gives Russians giant headache

THE SUCCESS of next week's Farnborough Air Show is being jeopardised by a last-minute battle involving the world's biggest civil aircraft, the giant Antonov-124 Ruslan transport aircraft, which was due to arrive today.

The protagonists in the bizarre mix-up over permission for the aircraft to land at the international air show site in Hampshire include the Russians, who appear to be responsible for the Ukrainian Antonov-124, the Society of British Aerospace Companies, which runs the show, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Department of Transport and the Ministry of Defence, which owns the airfield.

The Russians, responsible for all aircraft from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and the society said yesterday afternoon that the Ukrainian aircraft had received a special dispensation to land from the Civil Aviation Authority - faxed to Moscow at about 3pm - and the requisite insurance cover.

But a Department of Transport spokesman said: 'I can tell you categorically the CAA has not given permission.' There were two aircraft, one military, one civil, and they were Russian, not Ukrainian. The military one could come, but not carry passengers, while the civilian aircraft would not be allowed to come.

The Russians said there was only one Antonov-124, although it was scheduled to make two flights.

At the 'close of play' yesterday, the Department of Transport was still saying 'no'. The MoD, meanwhile, has said that the Antonov could land today but not fly in a display. Late yesterday the Russian Embassy was saying the aircraft was due to leave Moscow at 0900 GMT today, but 'now, of course, it's impossible'.

The Antonov-124 has flown into Farnborough before, but then it was a military aircraft, to which different rules apply. It is expected to carry five other aircraft - two helicopters and three light planes - whose failure to appear would seriously damage the spectacular contribution planned by the CIS. The Antonov-124, is the spearhead of the former Soviet Union's biggest presence at any Western air show.

The CIS is making a colossal effort to sell its aircraft. Seven of its exhibits have never been seen in the West and two were top secret until recently. The Russians deliberately held back their latest aircraft from last month's Moscow air show to make a big splash at the biennial Farnborough show.