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The UAE-Ethiopia Airlift: Fly Sky Airlines
From Libya to Ethiopia: a history of Ukrainian, Kyrgyz and Kazakh operators, war transport and losing Air Operator Certificates.
On 07 Oct 2021, I reported that I had identified some 45 flights from the United Arab Emirates to Ethiopia. This first article is part one of a series of two articles, and deals with the recent history (2019-present) of the aircraft now flying to Harar Meda Airport in Ethiopia and their various operators. A second article, which is to be published tomorrow, goes deeper into the technical side: how do I actually know that these aircraft visited Ethiopia?
This article will start off with a short summary of the flights I found, followed by a history of the aircraft involved. Like Fly Sky Airlines, also the various previous operators of the aircraft have a history of losing their commercial operating license (AOC, Air Operator Certificate) around involvement in war transport.
The UAE to Ethiopia flights
The flights from the UAE to the main air base of the Ethopian Air Force, Harar Meda Airport, were all done by airlines named Fly Sky Airlines. As we will later see, this airline consists of a Ukrainian branch (FSU callsign, UR- registration) and a Kyrgyz branch (FSQ callsign, EX- registration).
Five Fly Sky Airlines aircraft are known to be involved: UR-FSA, UR-FSC, UR-FSD and UR-FSE, in service with Fly Sky Airlines – Ukraine, EX-76003, in service with Fly Sky Airlines – Kyrgyzstan.
The second Libyan Civil War: Europe Air and the Ukrainian Branch
To understand more about the history of the Ilyushins Il-76 now seen in Ethiopia, we need to go back to Al Jufrah Air Base, Libya, in July 2019. On 25-26 Jul 2019, two Ilyushins Il-76 reg. UR-CMC and UR-CRP operating for the LNA (Benghazi-based rebels) were destroyed by an attack by the GNA (Tripoli-based UN-recognized government).
The two heavy Ilyushin Il-76 Soviet cargo aircraft were registered with “Europe Air” in Ukraine. In the days that followed, the State Aviation Administration of Ukraine terminated their AOC , forcing the remaining “Europe Air” aircraft to be remain grounded. These aircraft included UR-COE, UR-CRN, UR-BXS and UR-EAB.
Following the incident and the termination of their AOC, aircraft were first stored in Fujairah, UAE and visited Kryvyi Rih International Airport in Ukraine for maintenance. The aircraft remained out of active service for the remainder of 2019 and most of 2020.
In late 2020/early 2021, the four aircraft, now re-registered UR-FSA, UR-FSC, UR-FSD and UR-FSE, returned to active service. In the months that followed, their aircraft were tracked on routes similar to those previously used by AZee Air (to be introduced below) and Europe Air aircraft, flights suspected to again be related to LNA support in Libya. Like I previously did with “Azee Air” and “Jenis Air” flights (further introduced below), I regularly covered these flights in my tweets.
In January 2021, Fly Sky Airlines launched a short online campaign claiming that their flights were in fact humanitarian, mostly quoting my work. However, they did not specify which humanitarian situation was unfolding in Egypt, and who would need to receive so much humanitarian goods. I therefore do not consider their claims credible.
In February 2021, I received an email from Twitter Legal, stating that they had “received official correspondence” from “a third party”, quoting seven of my tweets on Fly Sky Airlines.
In June 2021, the Ukrainian Fly Sky Airlines fleet was flown from Fujairah, UAE to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, after the State Aviation Administration of Ukraine had terminated their AOC operating license, much like their previous operator Europe Air about two years earlier.
The aircraft returned to their home base Fujairah in late July/early August 2021. Apparently this AOC termination was temporary: Fly Sky Airlines is again listed among the airlines with a valid AOC as of 09 Oct 2021.
State Aviation Administration of Ukraine - list of aircraft with a valid AOC, dated 09 Oct 2021.
U.N. Report S/2021/229
Longer term Twitter followers will know that the U.N. Panel of Experts on Libya published a report (S/2021/229) in March 2021. This report confirmed a gigantic airlift by mainly Kazakh-registered Ilyushin Il-76 cargo aircraft from various airports in the UAE to destinations in and around Libya, including Benghazi and Sidi Barrani Air Base in NW Egypt. This is the same report that frequently quotes my earlier finds. Two company names regularly show up in this report: “Aganya Holdings Ltd.” based in the United Arab Emirates and “Infinite Seal Inc.” based in the British Virgin Islands.
All of Fly Sky Airlines’ current aircraft inventory (UR-FSA, UR-FSC, UR-FSD, UR-FSE) are listed as owned by these companies previously linked to aircraft involved with the Second Libyan Civil War: “Aganya Holdings Ltd.” and “Infinite Seal Inc.” by the State Aviation Administration of Ukraine.
State Register of Civil Aircraft of Ukraine, search query “ФЛАЙ СКАЙ” (“Fly Sky”), dated 09 Oct 2021.
The second Libya Civil War: Azee Air and the Kyrgyz Branch.
As introduced above, “Europe Air” played a key role in supplying goods to the LNA in Libya during the second Libya Civil War in 2019. In July, their AOC was terminated and their aircraft were no longer allowed to fly. How did their operations continue? In early 2020, I started following two Kazakh airlines: “Azee Air” and “Jenis Air”. In a period of about 4 months (Jan-May 2020), I identified a total of 160 flights from the UAE and UAE base Assab Air Base in Eritrea to Libya and NW Egypt. These flights were done by various airlines: the United Arab Emirates Air Force, Zetavia, Maximus Air Cargo, but mainly Azee Air and Jenis Air.
According to S/2021/229, the Aviation Administration of Kazakhstan suspended the AOC of Azee Air for a period of six months starting 21 Apr 2021. On 03 Jul 2020, the AOC of Jenis Air was suspended for six months, and was not renewed after expiring on 07 Jul 2020. According to an FAA Notice dated 28 Apr 2021, callsigns “AZL” for “Azee Air LLC” and “JEN” for “Jenis Air LLC” of Kazakhstan were deleted from the ICAO 3LD (three-letter designators), as they were “defunct”.
Foreign ICAO 3LD Additions, Deletions, and modifications (excluding U.S.). FAA, 28 Apr 2021.
Unlike with “Europe Air”, the various “Azee Air” and “Jenis Air” aircraft did not stay together after their operators ceased to exist. Some aircraft, like UP-I7646, kept operating for the LNA in and around Libya until early 2021 or to date, while others were transferred to Fly Sky Airlines. Former “Azee Air” Ilyushin Il-76 reg. UP-I7650 became Fly Sky Airlines EX-76003.
In the months that followed, EX-76003 was active in various regions: she was serving for NATO and the WHO (U.N.’s World Health Organization), delivering aid to Kabul, Afghanistan, delivering vaccines to Tripoli and Benghazi in Libya, and was spotted in Bosaso, Somalia, Kigali, Rwanda and in Bangui, Central African Republic in early 2021.
Fly Sky Airlines: the two branches
What’s peculiar about Fly Sky Airlines is the way they are set up. Fly Sky Airlines consists of a Kyrgyz branch using callsign FSQ “Kyrgyz Bird” and a Ukrainian branch using callsign FSU “Ukraine Bird”. The two airlines are both active on Twitter, using @flyskyua and @flyskykg, which both started their online campaign against me simultaneously. As shown before, they commonly operate on the same routes simultaneously. While their AOC was terminated, all aircraft operated by the Ukraine branch were stored in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Here’s my hypothesis: knowing what happened to Europe Air, Azee Air and Jenis Air, the owners of Fly Sky Airlines knew about the risk having their AOC terminated, and split up the airline in an effort to make it more difficult to end their operations.
https://flysky.co/, yields a security warning