Авиаперевозки грузов из Америки
Новости авиагрузоперевозок

Return of the heavy transports

Commercial use of the transport aircraft with the ramp cargo door, initially designed for military operations, had allowed the Russian airlines to develop a new segment in the cargo market: transportation of heavy and oversized cargo. This segment proved to be the most resilient in the current crisis. However, the danger lurks within: production of ramp aircraft in Russia has practically ceased, and the life span of the current fleet is limited. In August some documents were signed what could positively influence the fate of the Russian ramp aviation.
First of all, rehabilitation of Antonov An-124 Ruslan super heavy airlifter production had gained momentum. Vice president of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) Victor Livanov, Antonov Design Bureau general designer Dmitry Kiva and Volga-Dnepr Group president Alexey Isaikin had signed the technical requirements for the development of An-124-100 modernized version, potentially to enter series production. The aircraft’s loadlifting capacity will increase from 120 to 150 tons, flight range with maximum payload will reach 4,000 km, and the crew number will be reduced to 3 persons. Avionics and a number of systems will undergo deep mod-ernization.
So far the potential customers for the new Ruslan include: Volga-Dnepr with 40 aircraft, Polet Airlines with 15 aircraft, Ukraine’s Antonov Airlines with 9 aircraft; several more An-124s could be purchased by Western airlines. Besides, the Russian Defense Ministry, currently operating 9 An-124 aircraft, may also place an order. Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin, Commander of Air Force, and Lieut. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, Chief of Airborne Troops, had confirmed the interest towards An-124. The exact needs of the Ministry of Defense and civil airlines are to be de-termined by the end of the year. According to some data, the Russian military may order as much as 60 aircraft.
"According to our estimates, over $0.5 billion is needed to resume the production of these aircraft at Aviastar-SP, — says Alexey Fedorov, UAC president. – Currently no one except the government is able to invest such an amount into this project."
Aircraft modernization according to the new requirement may cost up to $180-200 million. However, Antonov Design Bureau general director Vladimir Korol says that conducting the modernization along with the restoration of the series production will allow to avoid overly high starting costs, and the first aircraft can be completed in just two years. The production can start with the use of the in-process stock at the Ulyanovsk Aviastar-SP plant while the modernization efforts should be gradual and based the already certified An-124-100M-150 version with 150 tons capacity, upgraded avionics and a number of other enhancements (three aircraft of this type are operated by Ukrainian Antonov Airlines). An-124 enjoys considerable market demand even without modernization, and the sale of the first and subsequent aircraft will allow to finance fur-ther modernization without inhibiting the program as a whole.
"In almost 20 years of commercial operation An-124-100 became an indispensable instrument of integrated industrial logistics of ultra-heavy and oversized cargo. No existing cargo aircraft has such capabilities", says Alexey Isaikin, head of Volga Dnepr Group, the world’s largest operator of Ruslans.
According to Vladimir Korol, during the An-124 production restoration it is worthwhile to retain the same cooperation scheme that existed when the production ceased: the fins, engine mount beams and nacelles are to be manufactured in Ukraine, while production of the rest of the fuselage and the wings, as well as the final assembly, are conducted in Ulyanovsk.
Even under the most favorable scenario, production of the super-heavy transport aircraft at Aviastar-SP will not resume until 2012-2013.

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