The fight between Russia and the Ukraine on who has the license for the Antonov AN-124 large freighter has been going on for many years and there seems to be no solution in sight. Time starts to run out for the present series of Antonov freighters, and more importantly a replacement is urgently needed.
Nobody has a solution
Antonov and Russia’s UAC aircraft development set-up parted ways back in 2015 when the governments of both the Ukraine and Russia could not, even to-date, shelve their political differences. Since then a verbal battle has been going on as to who has the license for the Antonov series of aircraft and just as important, who is responsible for maintenance of these aircraft.
Most of the ‘discussions’ centre around the AN-124 transporter which is still in service with Volga-Dnepr Airlines and Antonov Airlines. Volga-Dnepr runs twelve of the giant transporters and Antonov a further seven. The Russian military is said to be in need of a future large transporter with a design similar to today’s AN-124. The demand for this type of aircraft is still large as the mining industry along with other companies which have to have large and weighty machines transported by air at short notice.
Both Antonov and Volga-Dnepr have a flourishing business in this sector. But, for how long when the lifetime of their Antonov fleets gets shorter and shorter?
Russia to take first step?
Recent reports indicate that the Russian government is pushing for a solution and that that will be the development of an own replacement for the AN-124. However, the present thinking seems to be along the lines of building a new and larger version of today’s AN-124.
The AN-124 is capable of carrying a 150-ton load and the new version would increase that to 180 tons over a distance of 5,000 kilometers. In order to achieve this there would have to be quite a few design changes. These would range from newly designed wings in order to generate better lift and a new engine variant along with a redesigned main-deck area holding more modern loading systems.
No cost estimate published
Russia’s aircraft developers at Moscow’s Central Aeronautical Institute have been busy and according to Russian media reports have already produced a wind tunnel model which will start testing later on this year.
The ‘Elephant’ is the nickname given by the designers to the project. It sounds familiar - as we still have the B747 freighter which is called the ‘Jumbo.’
It would be a mighty successor for the AN-124, being around 13 -14 metres longer than today’s version. Demand is there for this aircraft as Volga-Dnepr needs a replacement for their fleet of twelve aircraft and would probably order many more in order to be able to increase their heavy lift business. Who knows how many the Russian military would require! Probably a double-digit number. Statistics show that they still have twelve operable AN-124s on their books with another twelve to fourteen in storage due to shortage of spare parts.
If wind tunnel tests run to schedule and are positive, then the next step is to build it.
Wait and see.
John Mc Donagh