Volga-Dnepr’s fleet of ten mighty An-124-100 freighters will be upgraded technically to give them a second life for servicing the global cargo industry. Leipzig is top favorite to perform the retrofitting job.
If all goes according to schedule the era of Volga-Dnepr operated An-124-100s will end by 2021or latest 2022 and a converted version called An-124-115 M is going to take their place. It’s a
transition from old to new since the upcoming -115 M is just a technically revamped version of the basic model An-124-100, indicated by the letter M, standing for “Modernization.”
Now, the secret where the upgrading of the aircraft will take place was revealed exclusively to CargoForwarder Global by Artem Arutyunov Volga-Dnepr Group’s Deputy Technical Director, Volga-Dnepr’s Deputy Head of the Design Center.
LEJ stands on top of the list
Here is what the manager said: “Today, we are assessing several locations for the technical modernization. Volga-Dnepr Technik GmbH in Leipzig, Germany is the baseline location. But the Ulyanovsk plant (in Russia) is also considered as an option.”
In light of this statement, the prospects are quite favorable for the East German airport to get this important chunk of work. Leipzig/Halle has meanwhile become sort of a second home base for V-D, where – when urgently required – up to six An-124-100s are operating on behalf of the Leipzig based Volga-Dnepr-Antonov Airlines local joint venture Ruslan Salis GmbH. Departing from LEJ, they conduct air lifts for the EU members and most NATO states to political hot spots like the Congo, Central Africa, Afghanistan, parts of the Middle East, or the Balkan region.
The available technical facilities for repairing, overhauling, and maintaining aircraft are state-of-the-art. Already in 2007, Volga-Dnepr’s local offspring V-D Technics GmbH established a maintenance base which was enlarged in 2012 by a second hangar of 8,500 sqm. The new facility offers sufficient indoor space to accommodate aircraft of the size of An-124s or A380s for maintenance work. It can be assumed that V-D’s Leipzig-based Technics GmbH is significantly better equipped in comparison to the aircraft factory CJSC Aviastar-SP at Ulyanovsk, where the An-124 fleet had originally been assembled.
Cockpit Crews will be halved
Meanwhile, up to thirty designers and engineers have been employed to quickly develop a retrofitted version of the aging aircraft, originally built for military purposes.
Details were now presented to a selected group of clients at Berlin’s air show ILA by Artem Arutyunov, Volga-Dnepr Group’s Deputy Technical Director. According to the manager, the future An-124-115 M will be equipped with a glass cockpit, thus eliminating mechanical flight and control processes and enabling the pilots to maneuver the craft electronically. Due to the digitalization the crews will be halved – from currently six to three: Captain, First Officer, and Flight Engineer. Once accomplished, “we will meet all technical requirements or provisions demanded by ICAO and any Aviation Authority,” stated Arutyunov. This accounts for noise emissions as well, that will be substantially reduced due to retrofitted engines, he announces.
The program is slated to take six years
A second major enhancement is the upping of total payload from the An-100s maximum of 120 tons to 150 tons the -115 M can uplift at each take-off. Manager Patrakov states: “No significant structural changes or enforcements are necessary. Only some secondary structural modifications are required.” This because the existing “Ruslans” have already been technically developed to accommodate up to 150 tons but reduced their uplift capacity to 120 tons to get the regulatory approval by the aviation authorities in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere.
According to designer Patrakov retrofitting the first aircraft will take about a year. This learning curve the rest of the fleet will benefit from. After the pilot phase in the development of the -115 M has been successfully accomplished, around six months are slated for modernizing each single An-124-100.
Once technically upgraded, the An-124-115 M’s can be operated up to 2035, estimates Patrakov. The end of each freighter’s life cycle depends predominantly on the annual flight rate of the aircraft, the executive says.