Going Undercover... again!

Victor Bout and Air Bas and .....

Air Cess changed its name to Air Bas during 2001. But "Air Bas"-titles never appeared on any aircraft.
There are indications that Air Cess aircraft have been reregistered into the the Kazakstan register.
Air Bas remained operating from Sharjah, U.A.E. but it is not clear if this is their main base of operations.

The fleet of Air Bas (flight nbr prefix RBS and ICAO call sign aviabas) was reported to be:
RegistrationAircraft TypeConstruction Nbrprevious reg.new reg.
3C-OOZAntonov 12B9346509RA-12975UN-11007
3C-KKJIlyushin 18V184006903LZ-AZC, 3D-SBCUN-75003
3C-KKKIlyushin 18D186009202SP-FNW, 3D-SBWUN-75004
3C-KKLIlyushin 18D187010204EL-AKQ, 3D-SBQUN-75005
3C-KKRIlyushin 18E185008603EL-ARKUN-75002

Operations Office:, PO Box 8299, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates with Head: Victor Lebede
Source: JP airline fleets 2002 and 2004.

An-12 3C-OOZ was reported in November 2001 at Sharjah (SHJ) in a white/grey c/s with a thin blue cheatline without titles. Scramble magazine reported it had been reregistered to UN-11007 and it would be the 2nd airframe to be thus registered.
I had seen 3C-OOZ in 1999 at Sharjah in quite a different colourscheme.
UN-11007 was reported in basic Air Cess cls at SHJ on 13 and 16Mar04, it had a white tail, no titles and the former registrations RA-12975 & 3C-OOZ were visible under the paintwork. UN-11007 seems to have been damaged beyond repair at Mukalla Airport on 31Mar2005.
Also present at SHJ in Nov01 were Il-18's 3C-KKJ (Air Cess logo on tail, no titles), 3C-KKL (Air Cess logo on tail, no titles) and 3C-KKR (Damal Airlines titles).
3C-KKK went unreported for a long time. 3C-KKK (c/n 186009202) was seen having Air Kazakstan titles removed at SHJ on 06Oct2000. This seems to prove the connection between Air Cess (aka Air Bass) - Kazakhstan - UN-register. It was noted again at Sharjah on 19Aug02, all white with no titles, still registered as 3C-KKK and its c/n was checked and confirmed.

UN-75004 was reported first at Sharjah on 14 Sep 2002 with a green cheatline and blue tail. Another report dates from 05Dec03 at Almaty, operated by Irbis with a blue tail. The c/n was first reported in JP Airline Fleets 2003.
Both UN-75003 and UN-75004 were reported at SHJ on 02Dec02 and 04Dec02 respectively and both were described as ex Air Cess colours and being ex 3C-KKJ and 3C-KKK, but the tie up was not confirmed at that time.

UN-75002 was reported at SHJ on 11May03, without markings. So was Il-18 UN-75003 and An-12 UN-11007, the latter in an all white "colourscheme".
An-12 UN-11007 was again reported on 12Oct03 at Dubai, still wearing no titles. Is this an An-12B or -V ?
And UN-75003 was again reported at Sharjah on 12Oct03, no titles and with a blue tail, it left the next day on 13Oct03.

Ilyushin Il-18 UN-75001 has been reported as part of Yuzhnaya and noted at Almaty 04Jan03 (ABN). Alexandre Avrane of www.aerotransport.org confirms (04Feb04): "UN-75001 is indeed another Il-18, this is c/n 187009904 of Berkut Air, currently leased to Yuzhnaya Aircompany."
It was at Karachi on 27Jul04 as shown on Airliners.net.
As IL-18 EX-18005 (c/n 187009904; operator unknown) it was seen at Tianjin 12Mar2010... The former UN-75001 became EX-115 and then for a brief while it was EX-18001, before being re-registered at the request of the owners ... Who are the owners?
See my Photos by Friends & Guests #53 for the scrapping of c/n 187009904.

The registration prefix UN- belongs to Kazakhstan register but the aircraft frequently visit Sharjah, the homebase of Air Bas could be anywhere outside Kazakstan. This is consistent with previous tailnumber- and name changes (since Bout moved from S.Africa).

Ilyushin Il-18D UN-75004 (c/n 186009202) was reported early Nov.03, at Sharjah, wearing no titles, but still in former Air Cess colourscheme; a sighting on 28Dec03 reported "all white".

Various reports can be summarized to the following situation:
RegistrationAircraft TypeConstruction Nbrprevious reg.SightingMarkings
UN-75002 Ilyushin 18E1850086033C-KKRSHJ 11May03
SHJ 04Nov03
no markings
a/w, n/t
UN-75003 Ilyushin 18V1840069033C-KKJSHJ 12Oct03blue tail, no m/s
UN-75004Ilyushin 18D1860092023C-KKKSHJ 14Sep02
SHJ 04Nov03
SHJ 28Dec03
green cheatline and blue tail
No t/t, blue tail
all white
UN-75005Ilyushin 18D1870102043C-KKLSHJ 04Nov03Linee Aerienne Tschad
UN-11007Antonov 12B93465093C-OOZSHJ Oct02
SHJ 11May03
DXB 12Oct03
no m/s
all white c/s
no titles

Abbreviations: no m/s=no markings, t/t=titles, a/w=all white, SHJ=Sharjah, DXB=Dubai

In Jan.2004 a photo appeared on Airliners.net of a shot up Il-18 at Kalemie, Katanga (Dem.Rep.Congo). The photo was taken on 31Jul02 by Michel Bonnardeaux and while the registration is not shown, it seems to have the Air Cess c/s and "Air" can be read on the fuselage.
It was suggested that it could it be 3D-SBZ (c/n 188010903) which was seen as such at Sharjah on 25Nov97, last seen there on 03Apr98 and cancelled as exported, no fate known... Another photo of 3D-SBZ appeared on Airliners.net, again at Kalemie but now seen robbed of all its part (07Dec04); unfortunately the tailnumber has been painted over.
Alexandre of www.aerotransport.org offered (Feb.2004) the following theory, which seems very likely to say the least:
"Victor Bout has/had 5 Il-18s:

  • Il-18V 184006903 : LZ-AZC to 3D-SBC to 3C-KKJ to UN-75003
  • Il-18D 187010204 : EL-AKQ to 3D-SBQ to 3C-KKL to UN-75005
  • Il-18D 186009202 : SP-FNW to 3D-SBW to 3C-KKK to UN-75004
  • Il-18D 188010903 : SP-FNZ to 3D-SBZ fate unknown
  • Il-18V 185008603 : 3C-KKR to UN-75002

  • Ilyushin Il-18V 3C-KKR (185008603) was purchased from Santa Cruz in 1999, possibly as replacement for Il-18D (188010903) 3D-SBZ (ex/SP-FNZ) which had disappeared from sight.
    I emailed the photographer of the wrecked Il-18: the aircraft was quoted carrying 96 Rwanda troops into Kalemie when it was destroyed by soldiers acting for Kabila (does it make sense ? I thought that Kabila was backed by Rwanda!). Airport personnel says its titles had been altered to "Air Rwanda" or "Air Columbia" at that time, but no proof.. Anyway this indirectly gives a date for this shooting: sometime between September and November 1998, possibly around 24 November 1998 when a raid of the Zimbabwe Air Force apparently took place against Kalemie airport.
    I have slides of all of these aircraft. 3C-KKR(UN-75002), 3C-KKJ(UN-75003) and 3C-KKL(UN-75005) can be excluded since they are still current. 3C-KKK was photographed in Feb 1999 (with additional Air Djibouti titles) so cannot be the aircraft involved. The only one left is 3D-SBZ. My last slide of her is dated March 1998 and the colour sheme agrees with the wrecked aircraft on airliners.net.
    This leads to the conclusion that 3D-SBZ was the aircraft destroyed at Kalemie, possibly with a fake or Rwanda registration."
    During Feb04 he was able to add: "Michel Bonnardeaux went to Kalemie to check for the wrecked Il-18 again and have just returned. Identity of 3D-SBZ in faded Air Cess colours is confirmed."

    Merci beaucoup, Alexandre !

    Here's a historical list of companies with (alleged) suspected Bout connections:
    Aerocom, based in Moldova
    African Lines (Central African Republic) probably associated with Centrafrican. Active 2003.
    Air Bas (previously Air Cess). Active 2004.
    ψ Air Cess Equatorial Guinea - Closed (aircraft transferred to Air Bas / Irbis / Centrafrican)
    ψ Air Cess Liberia - Closed. Became Air Bas.
    Air Cess Inc. (Miami)
    Air Cess Rwanda (based Kigali,Rwanda)
    Air Cess Swaziland (based at Manzini) - Swazi Govít struck off their a/c registrations in 1999.
    Air Pass, Swaziland (based Pietersburg, S.Africa)
    Air Zory (Bulgaria)
    Bukavu Aviation Transport (Democratic Republic of Congo - DRC)
    Business Air Services (Democratic Republic of Congo - DRC)
    ψ Centrafrica (another name for Central African Airways)
    ψ Centrafricain (another name for Central African Airways)
    ψ Central African Airways (Central African Republic)
    ψ Cess Avia (see Air Cess)
    CET Aviation Enterprise, operating (2004) Tu-134(s) in Middle East and Central Asia, flight number prefix CVN-
    Dolphin Air - see Flying Dolphin
    Flying Dolphin (became owner of Air Cess?)
    GATS (Gulf Aviation Technical and Services), Russia, but based SSG. IL-76s. Active 2004?
    Irbis Air, Almaty (Kazakhstan) - has no aircraft itself, but used as agency to charter other Bout aircraft.
    Jet Line International, has offices in the Ukraine
    Norse Air Charter (agency in S.Africa)
    Odessa (Dem.Rep.of Congo)
    Okapi Air (DRC)
    Planet Air of Uganda.
    ψ Pietersburg Aviation Services and Systems (Pty.), South Africa (doing business as Air Pass)
    Phoenix Air (Kyrgyztan) Ilyushin 18s and 76s, based SHJ. Owned by a Russian/Israeli. Still active 2004?
    Renan (Moldova)
    Santa Cruz (see Santa Cruz Imperial)
    Santa Cruz Imperial, Sharjah. An-12, An-26, IL-18 etc. mostly registered in Liberia. Active 2004?
    Sitrat Air (Bulgaria)
    Southern Cross Airlines
    Southern Gateway Corporation
    Track Aviation (GSA for Renan)
    Transavia Travel Agency, Sharjah
    Trans Aviation Network (TAN)

    ψ = assume ceased operations

    Comments to update this list will be welcomed, as well as reports on Air Bas' movements and sightings of its planes.


    While Air Bas may still be operating (anno 2004) from Sharjah (being lead by Victor's brother Sergei Bout and in the US being represented by Richard Chichakli), Victor Bout (now known as Victor Lebede -Lebedev?-, who has over the past 2 years also been named as owner of Air Bas in reference books) is now been reported to be flying daily from Almaty, Kazakhstan. Irbis Airlines has 4 Ilyushin Il-18s working, of which my correspondent saw 2. Permission to photograph was refused because "they were in dispute with the British Government"...
    The IL-18s are in basic Air Cess colours but carry no titles; they fly at least twice a day. Their base is right next to the "old" Air Kazakhstan hangars at Almaty.
    Irbis Air or Irbis Airlines also operates into Sharjah, their flight numbers show prefix BIS.

    JP Airline Fleets, Scramble and Air-Britain magazines, Peter Hillman, Dick Gilbert, Andreas, Steve Kinder, email exchanges on Yahoo's "Russian Propliners" and other forums.

    Air Bas went on to become Irbis Air and anno 2008 was operating as Mega Airlines. UN-75005 was reregistered as UP-I1801, UN-75002 became UP-I1802, UN-75003 became UP-I1803 and UN-75004 became UP-I1804. Mega Airlines also includes 5 Boeing 727 aircraft. [www.aerotransport.org]

    Back to Victor Bout's file

    Created: 01-04-03 Updated: 6-5-05
    Last updated 26.12.2017