Saturday, October 22, 2005

Royal Airlines

Since the first reports of a Viktor Bout-related airline in Iraq, in the spring of 2004, there have been mentions of something called "Royal Air Cargo", "Royal Airlines", or some other combinations of those names. I knew from early on that Royal Air Cargo existed in Pakistan, where it resold the services of British Gulf International Airlines, the not-British, not-Gulf firm whose An-12s were first registered in Equatorial Guinea, then Sao Tome, and then in Kyrgyzstan, all without apparently leaving Sharjah.

Well, it's around again. The Sharjah departure boards show that Royal Airlines Ltd, which is given as a private flight, are operating between Sharjah and nowhere else than Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, a centre of western military activities there and also the alleged locale of many cases of torture. What is Royal? An interesting question.

Originally, a company of that name using the ICAO code RPK operated from Karachi in Pakistan, but every aircraft they used was leased from one or other Viktor Bout firm. Now, the firm is reported to be in Saudi Arabia. No new ICAO code exists, so we have to assume that they are one and the same - especially as both fleet lists include planes from Air Cess (an Antonov An-24RV, 3C-KKH/27307701), Irbis (Antonov An-26B, UN-26582/47313504), and BGIA (an Antonov An-12BP, EX-160/401901). Interestingly, the list also includes UN-26581, 47313503, an Antonov An-26B that was traded through Opa Locka, Florida, home of dodgy dealer Maury Joseph and passing point of the famous missing 727, and an An-26A, serial number 97308205, that went from being a Royal Airlines bird with the registration UR-BWY to nowhere else than Jet Line International, the Moldovan frontco that shared offices with cocaine smugglers Aerocom, as ER-AZR.

Under the ICAO code RPK-, they fly to Bagram and sometimes to Iraq. Very interestingly, many aircrft have appeared in Australia with Aerocom division Airbridge Group at Eagle Farm near Brisbane.

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