During the past few years, we have seen quite a few airlines, passenger or cargo, folding up and disappearing from the radar screens.
The demise of aircraft manufactures was almost negligible however.
Various reports in the Eastern European press state that one of the world’s best known, the Antonov aircraft manufacturing company is reported to have been dissolved by the Ukrainian government. The Antonov Group it seems has been assigned or written over to the Ukrainian defence group called Ukroboronprom.
What has happened to lead to the break up?
Some internal sources within Antonov are claiming that this is not a liquidation process, but a transfer of the business and its management to another state owned entity.
However, no matter what one calls it, the situation does not look promising for Antonov’s future.
An official Ukrainian government statement issued today claims that this is not a liquidation process or the end of Antonov, but only a change of ownership with the Antonov aircraft manufacturing continuing in the future.
Will this really be the case?
One of the main questions is whether there is a future between Antonov and its largest customer, namely Volga-Dnepr Airlines. A vital question here is whether the Ukrainian government will continue torpedoing business relations with Russian enterprises.
If so, this could have consequences for Volga-Dnepr being able to continue operating with Antonov aircraft.
The Russian carrier has a large fleet of the giant Antonov 124 transporters and was interested in updating the aircraft and even acquiring more.
The whole issue is of course politically steered and not because of any known financial deficits within the Antonov Group.
The group was earlier made up of the Antonov Enterprise, the Kharkov State Aviation Enterprsie and the Plant 410 Civil Aviation State Enterprise in Kiev.
The deciding steps were taken in September of last year when the Antonov Group was withdrawn from the United Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation-Antonov set-up, which was a joint venture between Russia and the Ukraine founded in 2010 with the aim of developing new airliners.
Since then, Antonov has faced a fragile future.
Antonov built more than just the AN-124 Ruslan
The giant transporter and its sister ship, the even larger AN-225 Mriya were the most well known aircraft which came off the Antonov production lines.
Only a few of the AN-225 were built, but the AN-124 enjoyed much success with the Russian military and as a civil transporter which is capable of carrying large bulky loads over long distances.
Volga-Dnepr has used this aircraft for many years, is extremely happy with its performance and has managed to capture the largest share of the global “heavy-lift market.“
What future does Antonov now face?
The Antonov company was founded in Novosibirsk by Oleg Antonov back in 1946 and moved to Kiev in 1952 where the development of Russian military transport and civilian airlines started.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the company has been in Ukrainian hands.
Many types of aircraft were designed and built. Types such as the AN-12 and AN-26 are still flying within Eastern Europe.
In total, more than 22,000 aircraft were manufactured in the company‘s 70 year history.
Antonov started the development of the newer AN-178 back in 2010 and have plans for this military transporter to replace the very old AN12/26/32 series.
The AN-178 is meant to have a payload of 18 tons with a range of 4,000 km.
The Saudi Arabian Airforce had placed an order for 30 of the type.
Will production go ahead?
The main question remains as to the future of Antonov!
Will it be able to survive as a commercial airline manufacturer once it is integrated into the Ukrainian military and defence departments?
Where does this leave Volga-Dnepr in the future?
Hard to determine at the present time!
One has to assume that Volga-Dnepr has enough spare parts to tide itself over the next couple of years.
However, the company success rests on heavy-lift transport and a future replacement for the Antonov’s has been a subject for some time.
Volga-Dnepr and Antonov Airlines operate some of their AN-124s out of Leipzig Airport for the European Union and most of the NATO member states in line with the Ruslan-Salis joint venture, in which both capacity providers hold a 50 percent stake. In how far this operation might be endangered in the future, remains to be seen. The contract between Ruslan-Salis and the treaty states expires on 31st December this year with the option of prolongation
Boeing recently came up with their project for a larger freighter which would pick up and store containers (CargoForwarder Global reported) on a large scale.
Would a re-designed form of such an aircraft be of future use for the heavy-lift business?
It is said that the cost of such an aircraft would be half of that of the Boeing 747-8 freighter.
Speculation at the moment and maybe there‘s still hope that the Antonov civil aviation product might continue to live.
A question, which only future developments can answer.
John Mc Donagh