The epilogue is near. More than a year and a half after the launch of the call for tenders, the Ministry of the Armed Forces made its choice for the long-awaited strategic transport contract for the French armies. According to our information, it is the French broker Avico who was selected for this essential contract for the army, which consists in the supply of strategic transport planes (long distance and high capacity), like the very demanded Antonov 124 and the large Russian aircraft Iliouchine 76. Avico was preferred to the company Strategic Airlift Support (SAS), and to the giant DHL, which relied on the charterer InCompliance. The French duo Daher-Dynami had been eliminated during a previous stage of the competition. The unsuccessful candidates were informed Thursday, February 6, of the Avico points victory. They have eleven days to contest the result of the invitation to tender. The contract amount is not known, but the previous service provider, ICS, had billed 198 million euros over four years, according to the Court of Auditors.
Since MP François Cornut-Gentille put his nose in the dossier, drawing in March 2017 a report on vitriol, the subject of strategic transport smells of sulfur. As revealed by Challenges At the time, ICS, the previous service provider, had seen its contract not renewed by the Ministry of the Armies at the end of 2017, on the background of suspicions of influence peddling. The Court of Auditors had denounced in 2016 irregularities on the ICS contract, and immediately seized the National Financial Prosecutor's Office (PNF). In October 2017, investigators from the Financial Crime Suppression Brigade even searched Villacoublay Air Base, headquarters of the CSOA (Center for Operations and Routing Support), the army structure in charge of air charters. This heavy context sealed the call for tenders to choose the new service provider, launched in July 2018. It fell behind, very late: the winner was to be announced in the second half of 2018 …
AN-124, a rare commodity
Why is access to Antonov 124 so important? Because of its XXL carrying capacity, the heavy carrier, of Ukrainian design, remains essential for large projection operations of French forces. For the launch of Operation Serval in Mali in 2013, the air force had chartered 115 An-124 flights in just two months. The Airbus A400M also has strategic transport capacities, but it cannot completely replace the Ukrainian plane: it has a maximum carrying capacity of 37 tonnes, compared to 120 for the Antonov 124.
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The problem is that An-124 has become a scarce commodity. There are only about twenty of these very large carriers available worldwide, from three companies: the Russian Volga Dnepr (12 aircraft), the Ukrainian Antonov DB (7 planes), and the Emirati Maximum ( 1 plane). The available stock was further reduced in 2018: on the Kremlin's order, Volga Dnepr no longer markets its devices for the transport of military equipment. There are therefore only eight planes actually on the market. It's even worse for the Antonov 225, a monster with six engines and 84m long, capable of carrying 250 tonnes of payload: there is only one copy in the world, at Antonov DB.
The challenge for candidates for the tender was therefore to have access to these precious large aircraft. According to our information, Strategic Airlift Support had obtained exclusivity from the Ukrainian Antonov DB on its seven Antonov 124. How could Avico have offered Antonovs to the French army? Asked about the subject, Avico refused to answer. An unsuccessful candidate for the tender says that Avico would have turned to the Emirati Maximus, which has only one device. This dependence on a single aircraft would be problematic: the aircraft will be unavailable during annual maintenance operations, or when it is used for other missions. The same source ensures that the Maximus Antonov 124 is also not authorized to transport military equipment.
Pilgrimage to Mecca
Suffice to say that a recourse by one of the unsuccessful candidates appears possible, if not probable. Losers have eleven days to file this appeal, which would further delay the formal notification of the contract by several weeks. The Ministry of the Armed Forces is not totally helpless: pending the signing of the contract, it can rely on a NATO contract, Salis, which allows it to access Antonovs via a flight hour system prepaid. But this contract relates only to two Antonov 124, which must share a dozen member countries of NATO.
If the contract is confirmed, the Avico group would in any case strike a blow on the military market, in which he was not a major player. If he has already supplied an A321 to the Swiss army and works with NATO or the Swedish Air Force, Avico is best known as one of the European leaders in the chartering of civil aircraft, the sale and rental of aircraft, but also airport services (aircraft cleaning …). The group is in particular one of the leaders in the charter of airplanes for the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, for which it provides large aircraft. The group recently entered the capital of the Senegalese company Arc en Ciel, which operates small aircraft from 5 to 19 seats.