The Antonov AN-225 Mriya, the world’s largest plane armed with six engines and a massive cargo hold, arrived in Germany carrying 10million face masks for the fight against COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The Ukrainian cargo plane arrived at Leipzig/Halle airport on Monday morning and was welcomed by German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.
The masks were procured by the German government.
Today’s flight was made possible by the NATO-supported Strategic Airlift International Solution – or SALIS – which provides countries participating in the programme with access to Antonov heavy transport aircraft. A further two flights with an additional 14,900,000 protective face masks are arriving in Germany via SALIS-contracted Antonov aircraft from China.
— Oana Lungescu (@NATOpress) April 27, 2020
The sole Antonov AN-225 aircraft was built in the 1980s to transport space shuttles and can carry up to 250 tons of cargo. The plane’s smaller version, the AN124 has already moved vital supplies needed during the pandemic to several NATO countries, including the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Slovenia.
NATO member countries are pooling their resources to charter special aircraft that give the Alliance the capability to transport troops, equipment and supplies across the globe. Robust strategic airlift capabilities are vital to ensure that NATO countries are able to deploy their forces and equipment rapidly to wherever they are needed.
It is important to point out that Antonov is not doing this work due to a sense of solidarity or goodwill. On the contrary, Ukraine’s involvement in the SALIS program is on a commercial basis. However, this does not diminish its significance as an indication of Ukraine’s importance as a partner nation. Instead, this commercial partnership underlines the material benefits for Ukraine of closer ties with NATO and the EU at a time when the country is facing significant financial challenges.
Nine NATO Allies – Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia – participate in the SALIS programme which is managed by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency. The aircraft is operated by Antonov Logistics SALIS from Leipzig/Halle airport.