Friday, April 22, 2005

Hip Down: A Look on Skylink

An Mi-8 helicopter (NATO name Hip) has been destroyed by Iraqi rebels/insurgents/terrorists. Aboard were eleven men - three Bulgarian aircrew, two Fijian guards, and six US "security contractors". They are all reported dead. One of them apparently survived the crash and was then murdered by the shooters, who filmed his death and published the film on the web.

If you think I'm going to link it, you need to go elsewhere. Snuff movies and jihadi propaganda are not part of my core business.

Depressingly, crashes lend the most information available on the worldwide black aviation market. Regulars will recall TYR reports on the spate of Viktor Bout-related aircraft that went down earlier this year. For a start, recent information leads me to the conclusion that Skylink Air & Logistics, the Canadian firm who run Baghdad Airport, are one of the Bout customers in Iraq. I doubted this originally, after Doug Farah suggested it: there is a dubious Skylink Express in Russia. However, I am now aware that SkyLink were the operators of a regular Antonov 12 service between Dubai-Baghdad, whose details fit those of the continuing flights by British Gulf International on the same route (BGIA has the ICAO code BGK). That doesn't explain all the others: Jetline, Jet Line and their isotope Airline Transport, Air Bas, Irbis, Sky Traffic Facilitators, Click, Georgian National (NOT the official Georgian national airline), or Falcon Express Cargo Airlines, the FedEx subsidiary whose Beech 1900 flyers say the induction course is a showing of Air America but won't say if certain aircraft ever worked for them.

But it's a start. SkyLink have a reputation for flying in bad places, that they claim is for humanitarian reasons. Depressingly, though, they seem to have a history of dealing with people that one might choose not to. Over Kosovo, they were commissioned by something called the International Rescue Committee to drop food to refugees - a laudable mission, no? But that story tells more, though, because the list of Moldovan Antonov 26 operators of the time is a grim document. There are few, and several are firms strongly associated with Viktor Bout. It must have been Tepaviatrans or Renan. In Afghanistan in the late 90s, SkyLink are credited with flying their Antonov 32s when "the Russians wouldn't", apparently after the Taliban's detention of one of Viktor's Il-76s. Not that the load of an An32 is much, but one would love to know what the relation was.

Heli Air, then? A Heli Air Services in Bulgaria owns a number of Russian-built big transports, but they seem respectable. I seem to recall a similar name in a DRC report, so this will have to run a while.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Note that some links have rotted.

Skylink data is available here:

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