The fleet of Antonov-built AN-124 aircraft is aging rapidly. Modernization programs and repair works have come to a near standstill following the dispute over license issues and conceptual ownership between the Ukraine and Russia. Except for a Russian unilateral initiative to give the green light for overhauling the D-18 engines of the mighty freighter, without license holder Antonov’s consent. If the quarrel between both sides is not settled, particularly the 10 units operated by Volga-Dnepr, comprising a subfleet of AN-124 produced freighters, is facing a slow death, international aviation experts predict.
Denis Manturov, Russian Minister of Industry and Trade expresses little hope for a solution to please AN-124 operator Volga-Dnepr or any potential client interested in acquiring a successor model
of this legendary mighty freighter aircraft or a modernized version. In a recent public statement, the politician said that “the production of a large freighter capable of replacing the AN-124
will be worked out in detail until about the end of the 2040s.”
The end of the 2040 decade - that’s about 30 years still to go!
Way before, the last V-D owned AN-124 will have reached its economic lifetime and be taken out of the skies for good. In contrast, the seven AN-124s utilized by V-D’s Ukrainian competitor Antonov Airlines might live a bit longer since the Kiev-based aircraft manufacturer holds most of the licenses for producing spare parts replacing aging components. But there is a hitch as well: The Ukrainians also lack licenses for several spares and components which were manufactured in the former Soviet Union, with Russia being the legal successor of the production rights.
AN-124 converted into a spare parts depot
This leads to the absurd situation that Antonov can block Volga-Dnepr from spare part supplies and vice versa, each side strongly supported by their respective governments. Should the carriers not adhere to international rules for the use of licensed spare parts, they risk being banned by many countries, because of posing a safety hazard.
How unbearable the situation has meanwhile become is reported by Russian media. They speak of an AN-124 belonging to Antonov Airlines that has meanwhile been decommissioned and converted into a spare parts depot for supplying the remaining Ukraine registered Ruslans with components.
As things stand, there are many indications that more AN-124s are awaiting the same fate sooner or later. This even more since Antonov officials have left no doubt that producing an AN-124 successor would become too costly for their company, also because of the limited market demand for a similar mighty freighter aircraft, as recently announced by them.
Escalating conflict over the AN-124
Meanwhile, the next conflict between the two antagonists is just around the corner, kicked off by a statement made by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov. In an interview with news agency Interfax he declared that his government opted for repairing the D-18 engines of the Volga-Dnepr operated AN-124s independently, without consent by Ukraine’s Antonov Company. A couple of overhauled D-18 engines have already been returned to V-D by the assigned MRO provider, the politician confirmed. He further spoke of 12 engines per year that need to be overhauled, enough to equip three Ruslans with rebuilt aircraft jets.
Ukraine's response to this unilateral measure is still pending.