The Ukrainian-based aircraft manufacturer, Antonov, has been having a hard time of it lately due to the continued bad relations between Russia and the Ukraine.
The future of the Kiev-headquartered builder of large transport aircraft such as the AN-124, AN-225 and the smaller AN-178 passenger jet has been jeopardized and reports at the beginning of the year suggested that Antonov may well have to close up shop.
It seems that a “Chinese” solution may well keep Antonov in the skies.
Antonov and AICC sign cooperation agreement
The Aerospace Industry Corporation of China (AICC) has just signed a cooperation agreement with Antonov to build a second AN-225 ‘Mriya’ transporter.
The Mriya, which translated means ‘Dream’, is the largest cargo transport aircraft ever built.
There was only one aircraft manufactured, although a second aircraft was planned, but never completed.
The sole aircraft operates heavy lift flights under the Antonov Airlines flag.
The giant freighter is capable of carrying up to 250 tons of cargo and has a maximum takeoff weight of some 600 tons.
It was back in the days of the USSR that a transporter was conceived for the Russian space programme, whereby Russia’s Buran space vehicle was to be piggy-backed on top of the plane.
The AN-225 has been flying since 1988 and now it seems that the Chinese want to get in on the act and restart production.
Insiders, pointing to the current state of the air freight industry, which is facing a major and presumably structural downturn, have expressed doubts about the proposed revival plans.
In addition, the announcement by Antonov and its Chinese partner lacks any details about the funding of the project to cover the presumably rather high costs of finishing the second aircraft, much less building more of them at extremely low volumes.
All rights belong to China
The deal which was signed on 30. August is said to transfer all rights for future production of the six engined giant over to the Chinese AICC.
The first step in the new cooperation calls for both parties to bring the unfinished second aircraft into service and install newly updated equipment into it.
According to AICC and Antonov, serial production of the AN-225 will be reinstalled and the first new AN-225 is planned to be delivered by 2019.
Whether this is possible during the relatively short time period, remains to be seen.
Is Antonov planning to switch all future production to China?
Cooperation between Russia and the Ukraine is now considered a thing of the past.
Therefore, if Antonov wants to keep in business they have to have one or more new partners who can help build, market and ensure future operations.
Feelers were put out to some western aviation companies but it seems that these have so far not come to anything.
The Antonov AN-124 transporter which can carry up to 150 tons of cargo was always the mainstay of the Antonov fleet.
These aircraft are mainly used by the Volga-Dnepr Group who are surely interested in continued production and upgrades of the aircraft systems.
Polet Airlines, another Russian cargo carrier which went bankrupt last year had two of the AN-124 planes in service.
These are now standing idle somewhere without engines which it seems were reclaimed.
Sales price per aircraft is rumored to be US$15 million plus a further US$4 million for each engine.
Just a dream?
The AN-225 agreement with AICC may just give Antonov the hope of doing the same deal again for the more interesting AN-124 freighter.
Question will be, who will be putting the engines on any future joint-venture aircraft?
Besides, given Antonov's recent track record (multiple failed talks of AN-124 production resumption, the fiasco with the AN-70), Ukraine's current situation, the issue of Russian components and intellectual property related to the AN-225, make it most likely that the revival plans for the "Mriya" are just a Dream.
John Mc Donagh / Nol van Fenema