After a half-day scooting around Irkutsk city and the fringes of the airport, today we would be inside the airport proper.
This has always been one of my favourite airports in Siberia, just for the sheer number of An-24s and An-26s that ply the local internal routes from this location.
After security formalities we were led straight onto an airport bus, and the words we always want to hear were spoken, “so where do you want to go?”
As we already spied some hangar doors open with an An-12 parked inside, it seemed sensible to go there first, just in case the doors were closed later. “No problem, let’s go.”
An immaculate Irkut An-12 was being worked on, with an IrAero An-24V on the opposite side.
With those in the bag, it was time to visit the main Antonov ramp. This is where the majority of An-24 services depart from. The passengers are bussed to this sloping part of the airport where there’s always lots of activity, with aircraft in and out all day.
Although the amount of An-24s hadn’t changed, the operators had, well kind of anyway. Gone were the Angara 403 schemed aircraft, replaced with aircraft devoid of the 403 on the tail. The 403 in the title was in reference to the ARP403 repair facility at this airfield, but it looks like they’ve dropped that part of the name now.
There were a mix of An-24 and AN-26s belonging to Angara, some of the aircraft were in this old scheme, minus the 403, and others were in plainer white colours.
As well as a representative from the airport who showed us around, we had a security guy who always seemed a little jumpy when any aircraft were heard running. After a while he got tired of being nervous and relaxed a little, as he could see we were capable of keeping the more non-airport savvy people with us in check. There were enough of us that had already travelled together in the past to make sure nothing untoward happened.
A couple of the An-24s even had names and artwork applied, which was a nice touch.
Just across the taxiway was an An-26, which I thought I’d seen on my previous visit in 2009, but, although it bore a similar weathered scheme, the IrAero An-26 was in fact a completely different machine. It might have looked weathered, but it was certainly in service. You can’t keep the old Russian aircraft down!
We begged to hang around while another An-24 had a busload of passengers taken to it, and, with the help of our interpreter Natalie, who always did a great job of engaging in conversation to stall proceedings, we shot this aircraft taxiing out for another multi-leg journey.
Our next stop was on the east side of the airport where the helicopters were parked. But the first stop was an immaculate An-2 in Angara colours, and as luck would have it sun finally came out! Finally!
Another airframe with equally impressive colours was an Mi-8T belonging to UTair in a striking yellow, black and red scheme, although I’m not sure what the purpose of these colours were.
Three Angara Mi-8s ended our tour of this side of the airfield, one with a bunch of engineers chewing the fat about something that was up on one of them.
We weren’t allowed to shoot inside the ARP403 facility, like we did on the previous trip. The old man guarding the gate was having none of it, even with the airport official and security guard with us, so we had to be content with shooting the backlit aircraft over the gate. Not ideal, but nothing had really changed since that last visit luckily.
There is a another An-24 ramp, a place that wasn’t even being used during our last visit, and this hosted mainly UTair examples.
Here there was a truck hooked up to one of the aircraft, which I can only assume was providing ground power, although I’m really not sure of that.
The final part of the tour was to the top ramp that houses the small freighter part of the airfield. Here you’ll find a bunch of An-26s awaiting their next assignment.
All were IrAero examples with one in an striking eggshell colour scheme, something I’ve not seen before. the colour didn’t even match any of its previous operators, so why so different to the rest of the fleet, maybe we’ll never know.
We shot a few newer jets while hanging around this ramp, and then it was time to go to the terminal to catch our Alrosa Tu-134 for our flight to Mirny.
So ended a couple of interesting days in Irkutsk, and yet another great visit to the main airport, with the added bonus of some extra access to the outlying technical school, which we didn’t manage before.